The Best Reasons to Have Some Chocolate
I love chocolate. That isn’t a flippant statement. I actually have a shelf of books devoted to the subject of chocolate such as The Chocolate Bible and The True History of Chocolate by Sophie Coe and in the kitchen is another shelf where I squirrel away my favorite gourmet chocolate bars. I am a connoisseur, I suppose. I also perk up whenever I hear the latest study singing the praises of this Food of the Gods (that’s in the actual scientific name Theobroma cacao). How could I not write about chocolate on this day? St. Valentine isn’t the patron saint of chocolate (St Honoratus of Amiens is–sort of) but he should be, for this is a huge day for chocolate consumption.
Chocolate has 300 compounds and natural chemicals in each bite. It contains traces of many beneficial vitamins and minerals and science is just starting to understand the value of each of those. “Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world’s perfect food,” Michael Levine, a nutrition researcher once noted. Ever since the Aztecs believed it to be a source of spiritual wisdom, tremendous energy and an aphrodisiac to boot, there have been medical and scientific statements through the centuries on its benefits. In the 1700s French doctors believed chocolate was beneficial for chronic illnesses and as a cure for broken hearts. English doctors recommended a good cup of chocolate after a big breakfast to help with digestion.
So the news over the past couple decades that chocolate is good for you, really isn’t a new concept, but it did have a few decades of bad publicity (thanks to both bad chocolate and bad science at the time?). The kind of chocolate that draws the best praise from scientists is dark chocolate and contains at least 60% cacao OR another form of healthy chocolate is cocoa, the nonfat part of the cacao bean which has been ground into a powder. Adding sugar, milk or hydrogenated or other saturated fats dilutes the nutritional or other benefial effects.
Maybe there is something to the similarites between a Chocolate Bunny and the Energizer bunny
Chocolate, even with very little sugar, can give you a burst of energy. The Mayans, who drank a fairly unprocessed chocolate drink, believed it would help them fight fatigue. It’s probably because of its theobromine content, which has a bigger effect than the touch of caffeine it contains. Theobromine and another alkaloid, called phenethylamine, have physiological effects on the body. It has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain. That will make you feel a lot better; it actually can help fight off the blues.
Is Chocolate Better than Kissing?
“That rich, luxurious filling; it melts ever so slowly on your tongue and tortures you with pleasure.” Quote from the movie Chocolat
I love this British study which shows it’s all in the way you eat it: place that chocolate piece on your tongue and hold it there until melts. The study showed that chocolate caused a more intense and longer lasting “buzz” than kissing, and doubled volunteers’ heart rates. It was “a buzz that, in many cases, lasted four times as long as the most passionate kiss,” notes Dr. David Lewis, formerly of the University of Sussex. If you want to replicate the study, note that the participants used dark chocolate (60% cacao). Let me know how it goes.
Other Great Benefits
- Chocolate really can make it all better thanks to the theobromine and other compounds which stimulate endorphin production and serotonin levels. “In small amounts, it’s a mood booster,” says Dr. Jennifer Romos-Galluzzi.
- Chocolate can boost your immunity because it contains copper. You don’t want a low copper intake because that can weaken disease fighting cells! Copper is also responsible for processes such as energy metabolism, production of hemoglobin and the formation of connective tissue.
- Good for the heart: Foods which contain flavonoids such as dark chocolate seem to protect against heart disease by improving artery function, allowing them to be more flexible and deal with stresses of dietary fat, exercise and increases in blood pressure. Some research found that chocolate, eaten in moderation, can lower blood pressure.
- Women often say they crave chocolate, especially when they are premenstrual. Scientists believe this may be the body’s attempt to self-medicate and restore the body’s natural balance. Quality dark chocolate and cocoa powders contain high amounts of the mineral magnesium. The body needs magnesium to help the body more efficiently metabolize food into energy .
Your Chocolate Prescription:
According to sports nutritionist Liz Applegate, you can regularly indulge in a bit of good high-flavonoid chocolate if you eat no more than 1-2 ounces a day, and make it dark, which is the most heart-healthy kind. Another great way to indulge is to make a good homemade cup of cocoa. (Here’s our recipe!) Dr. Applegate’s book Eat Smart, Play Hard: Customized Food Plans for All Your Sports and Fitness Pursuits also has a place of honor on my bookshelf–I highly recommend it for athletes who wonder how to eat when they are in training, on a century ride or even trying to lose some weight!