Ahhh, chocolate…who doesn’t love it? It’s mother nature’s comfort food. It’s sweet, creamy, melt in your mouth perfection. Taste aside, chocolate has some proven health benefits that go further than just simple indulgence.
Cocoa is the foundation of chocolate. It is from cocoa that we find these health benefits. Cocoa is rich in flavonoids, specifically procyanidins and epicatechins. They act as antioxidants in the body and protect our cells from free radical damage. They can also prevent inflammation in our arteries that leads to heart disease, thus protecting the cardiovascular system. Flavonoids can lower blood pressure by increasing production of nitric oxide, the body’s natural vasodilator, allowing for easier blood flow throughout the body. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher the flavonoid content. Always choose dark chocolate for its antioxidant potential, never milk based chocolate.
Cocoa also contains chemical messengers and amino acids that affect our emotions. With its high tryptophan levels, chocolate helps to increase serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is our feel good, happy hormone. There is also phenylethylamine (PEA) present in chocolate which raises dopamine levels. This neurotransmitter is in charge of the reward and pleasure centres of our brain. PEA is also known as the love chemical. It is indeed the same chemical our brain produces when we fall in love or feel pleasure. Theobromine, another chemical in cocoa, acts as a stimulant similar to caffeine. This gives a pleasant alertness, not a jittery feeling. Chocolate actually has very little to no caffeine.
Magnesium is a mineral that is lacking in most people’s diets, but is found abundantly in chocolate. It is important for our muscles, for our nervous systems, for treating depression and insomnia, and reducing menstrual cramps. Indeed, this is why many women crave chocolate during menstruation, it is medicinal and will help with mood swings and uncomfortable cramping. In a 100gm bar of dark chocolate there can be as much as 327mg of magnesium. That’s higher then the Recommended Daily Intake!
It is important when choosing chocolate to always buy dark, the darker the better. Anywhere from 70% to 100% cocoa is ideal. Limit your daily dose to around 1 ounce, not much, but enough to give you antioxidant protection without ruining your diet. Choose organic and fairtrade if possible, as cocoa is a heavily sprayed crop and is guilty of unfair labour practices and unequal profit distribution.
Now that is something we shouldn’t feel guilty about!
By Krista Boulding, RHN