Growing up in New England meant that the holidays were usually spent indoors, drinking something warm, while sitting by a fire and staring out at the snow. Living in small town Mexico, this time of year feels very different. I tend to get a bit nostalgic for cold weather (only a little), family time, and that winter wonderland feeling. Lucky for me, Mexico has great traditions of their own, some very similar to the rest of the world, and some more unique, like a bull costume adorned with spinning wheels of fireworks!
In most countries, the holidays mean sweet treats; and in Mexico it’s no different. In fact, they are pretty famous for their chocolate, made with a special blend of cocoa, cinnamon, and vanilla. The hint of wintertime flavors is perfect when I need a little taste of home. On top of the sweet reminder I experience when enjoying some of my favorite Mexican chocolates, I’m also nourishing my body with several pretty great natural medicines.
The majority of benefits your body receives from cocoa is due to the level of polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. These polyphenols offer a whole slew of health perks including lower blood pressure, decreased risk of stroke and heart attack, improved brain function, and positive changes in mood. Surprisingly enough, cocoa can even help with weight control and have cancer protective properties. Of course, it depends what kind of chocolate you indulge in. Stick to dark chocolate if you are looking for a healthier option.
Cinnamon has been used as a medical spice for a long time and has quite the reputation due to its high level of antioxidant activity. In fact, during a study comparing the antioxidant activity of 26 different spices, cinnamon clearly outranked the rest. It even scored higher than well known “superfoods” such as oregano and garlic. Not only does it have a high level of antioxidants, it is antibacterial, can reduce inflammation, cut the risk of heart disease, lower blood sugar, and produce anti-diabetic effects. On a neurological level, cinnamon has been shown to prevent the build up of protein in the brain which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies have also shown improvements in Parkinson’s patients.
You may not realize how necessary a little bit of vanilla in your chocolate is until you try Mexican chocolate and see that all the flavors blended together create the perfect balance. Just like cocoa and cinnamon, you will find that this delicious bean has some medicinal properties as well. Like cinnamon, vanilla is rich in antioxidants and antibacterial. It can also help in reducing cholesterol and inflammation in the arteries, preventing blood clots and improving your health overall. Without even ingesting it, the scent of vanilla can have a calming affect on your nerves, boost your immune system, and lower stress on the body in general. One of my favorite tricks is using vanilla with a little warm water when I have a sore throat. The anesthetic and antibacterial effects will help reduce inflammation and irritation.
Who knew indulging in holiday chocolates could be so good for you? Of course, the purer and richer in these ingredients the better, so if you are really looking for some health benefits seek out the good dark stuff.