If you saw the movie Chocolat, you may remember that the ancient Mayans believed that cacao (the unrefined bean of the cocoa plant) had the power to reveal destinies. In modern times, chocolate has received a lot of attention for its antioxidant properties rather than its more mystical ones. Research has shown that raw, minimally processed cocoa (also called cacao) contains flavonoids similar to those found in green tea. Raw chocolate is known to defend against free radicals or destructive molecules in the body that can contribute to the onset of heart disease, cancer, and stroke. It also temporarily raises Serotonin levels in the brain.

Once chocolate is heated, the beneficial constituents change and are no longer as potent. Since chocolate is a crop, many supermarket brands are produced using pesticides and may also contain genetically modified ingredients. For this reason, it is essential to seek out dark organic, preferably shade-grown chocolate with a high percentage of cacao.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, chocolate in its more natural state is very bitter and cooling. Cravings for chocolate indicate mineral deficiencies (especially Magnesium, Iron, and copper). Cravings are also the body’s way of seeking balance. It moves Qi (energy) and may temporarily provide a sense of calm. During PMS (a hot, yang state), chocolate is useful in cooling the body back down. Likewise, it can further agitate those with generally colder dispositions. This may seem counterintuitive, but chocolate consumption (even dark organic varieties) has been known to contribute to hot flashes. Many women notice a reduction in frequency and severity of hot flashes when they reduce or eliminate chocolate from their diets.

It’s important to keep in mind that milk chocolate contains large amounts of sugar and cream. Incorporating small amounts of raw powder can introduce minerals and make the diet more interesting. With any substance, chocolate is best consumed in moderation. Unless of course, it’s Valentines Day!