The Bliss of Chocolate - an Ayurveda Perspective
The obroma cacao, the food of the gods, has been used as food, medicine, and even currency for thousands of years.1 In its pure form, raw cacao is an amazing source of antioxidants, protecting us from free radicals, helping to keep us vibrant and healthy.2 Antioxidants may act to counteract the effects of exposure to stress, pollution, chemicals, and other unhealthy stuff.
Cacao is a wonderful source of magnesium (which many of us are deficient in) and one of the highest plant-based food sources of iron. It contains chemical compounds that increase our ability to focus and improves our memory, and it contains anandamide, the “bliss molecule,” which helps us to feel good, longer. It also contains phenylethylamine, “the love molecule,” which raise the level of endorphins in our brain, very similar to the chemical changes that make us feel on top of the world when we are falling in love.3
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.”— Charles M. Schulz
But that doesn’t mean that we should all rush down to the local grocery and stock up on chocolate bars. Unfortunately, the typical chocolate bar or commercial hot cocoa mix has been highly processed, heated, alkalized, and contains sugars, preservatives, artificial flavors, and other undesirable additives. Usually, white sugar or corn syrup are the main ingredient, and both have a bad rap for very good reasons. Comparing organic raw cacao and most commercial chocolate is like comparing a perfectly ripe, fresh, organic, wild blueberry with the synthetic chemical blueberry flavoring in a jelly bean. The processing and the toxic additives are not digestible and are lacking in prana,aggravate all three doshas, builds ama, and contributes to disease. But don’t despair. With a little education, you can learn how to use this wonderful food to your benefit.
How to Choose the Best Chocolate for Health and Healing
Ayurveda teaches us to pay attention to the qualities of the food we eat, that anything can be medicine or a poison depending on how it is used or who is using it.
When I talk about pure chocolate, I am referring to raw cacao. Raw cacao has a very bitter taste (rasa), a pungent aftertaste (vipaka), is light and dry, and has a heating energy (virya). It is rajasic as it stimulates the mind and can be difficult to digest.
So, is it good for you? It depends on many things. Are you in balance and do you have a strong digestion? Do you have a dominance of vata, pitta, or kapha or an imbalance of one, two, or all three? (If you are new to Ayurveda, you can find out more about how this relates to you by taking this Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz.)
If you are balanced and happily healthy, think of chocolate as a spice. A little goes a long way. If you are out of balance, it is advisable not to consume chocolate or even raw cacao powder very often. If you are craving chocolate, try to discern if you are you craving the bitter taste or the sweet taste. The sweet taste associated with chocolate is not the cacao, but the added sugars. You might consider eating something naturally sweet, like a date or piece of fruit, and if cravings are particularly strong or frequent, take Sweet Ease instead.
When I was taking my oral exam in Ayurveda school, my teacher asked me to describe the qualities of chocolate. I explained that the bitterness increased vata but would decrease kapha. However, as chocolate (raw cacao) is usually combined with sugar, it would increase kapha and decrease vata and pitta. And as it contains a little caffeine it would increase both pitta and vata. Chocolate is rajasic, or stimulating, which would increase vata and pitta and decrease kapha. He paused, smiled sweetly, and then explained the prabhava of chocolate was magical, so therefore could be enjoyed by all.
“Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolate.”— Fernando Pessoa
Chocolate And The Doshas
In balance, kapha can benefit the most from cacao. The bitter and heating qualities are the opposite to kapha’s heavy and cool qualities. But this doesn’t mean that kaphas can run out and buy a boatload of chocolate. Someone who is balanced can consume small quantities, like a square of very dark chocolate once or twice a week.