Benefits of Eating Chocolate
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on October 30, 2009 by Paulina Nelega, RH
However, there are many benefits to incorporating chocolate sensibly into your diet, whether you are dieting to lose weight or not.
Components of Chocolate
Everyone has a favorite type of chocolate: milk chocolate, dark chocolate or white chocolate. Each of these have varying proportions of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, as well as various fats, carbohydrates, vegetable proteins. Other components include potassium and magnesium in rather large amounts, with calcium and sodium too, along with vitamins A1, B1, B2, D, and E.
However, that’s not all that chocolate contains! The following stimulants can also be found in every bite of chocolate:
* Caffeine: This ‘get up and go’ stimulant increases intellectual activity and alertness. There is approximately 6 mg of caffeine wrapped inside an average size chocolate bar, compared to 100 to150 mg of caffeine found in a cup of regular coffee.
* Anandamide: The effects of marijuana are mimicked by this stimulant by affecting the same brain receptors. This results in a very mild ‘high’, similar to that felt from marijuana. In addition, there are also two other ingredients contained in chocolate that prevent the natural breakdown of anandamide, thereby prolonging the feeling of happiness.
* Catechins: This is an antioxidant which that has been shown to help protect the body against cardiovascular disease and possibly cancer. Catechins are found in higher amounts in chocolate than in black tea.
* Endorphins: Whenever we bite into a piece of chocolate, endorphins, which are natural opiates, are released by the brain in an increased amount, thereby elevating both our mood and reducing any pain.
* Phenylethylamine: This is the same chemical that is released in our bodies whenever we feel like we are falling in love. Phenylethylamines are chemically similar to amphetamines and therefore work as a psycho-stimulant.
* Theobromine: This stimulant invigorates the central nervous system, assists muscular exertion, and also works as a diuretic and appetite stimulant.
* Phenols: This can also be found in red wine, tea, fruits and vegetables. It decreases the chance of having coronary heart disease.
* Tryptophan: This is considered to be an essential amino acid which boosts the production of serotonin, an anti-depressant and natural stress-reducer. On the opposite side, chocolate cravings are often brought on by a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain.
So basically, eating that piece of chocolate, means that we are taking a proactive step towards improving kidney and digestive functioning, whilst minimizing our risks of cancer, heart disease and stroke. It also improves circulation and makes us feel happy and increases our tolerance for pain.
Other Benefits and Chocolate Facts
* Drinking low fat chocolate milk before exercising actually provides an equal, or possibly superior, muscle recovery period than drinking a high calorie, high carbohydrate recovery sports beverage.
* Women usually crave chocolate before the start of their menstrual cycle because it is rich in magnesium. Being deficient in magnesium actually worsens PMS symptoms. It is also eases menstrual cramps.
* Chocolate has been believed to be an aphrodisiac for centuries. In fact, the Aztec people believed that by eating chocolate, men would become invigorated and women would become less inhibited.
* Eating chocolate in its crudest form of pure cocoa guarantees that you will reap all the healthy benefits of chocolate. However, most people are not able to tolerate pure cocoa and resort to eating dark chocolate instead. It is a mixture of cocoa paste and sugar. This bittersweet chocolate has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and increase HDL (High-density Lipoprotein) levels. HDL works to remove bad cholesterol from atheroma within the arteries and moves it back to the liver.
* Watch what you eat! Although chocolate has many benefits it still can pose a threat to any diet as it also contain sugar and fat. When it comes to chocolate, eating smaller quantities can reap the most benefits.
* Read the label before you eat your next bar of chocolate. It should say that chocolate is the number one ingredient under nutritional facts. Dark chocolate usually contains less sugar gram amount per serving than fat gram amount. If the chocolate you like lists any hydrogenated fats, do not eat it, as those are considered to be ‘bad fats’. Instead, opt for chocolate that has no added fat except cocoa butter.
* If you really want to help the environment at the same time as eating a piece of chocolate, then look for chocolate whose label reads Fair Trade. This guarantees that the farmers and workers who harvested the cocoa were paid and treated fairly.
Photo Credit: Darwin Bell
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan