Chocolate: Not Such A Guilty Pleasure

By Jessamy Baldwin

Chocolate is my weakness. If we’re out for supper and there’s a chocolate fondant or chocolate mousse on the menu – it’s pretty hard to muster up any will power. If I’m having a stressful day of work, if I’m baking a cake for a friend’s birthday or if my husband and I are curling up with Game of Thrones – there’s usually some chocolate involved. Chocolate makes everything better. It’s comfort food defined. My brother’s girlfriend hates the stuff and though I adore her, I can’t quite get my head around it. Sorry Libs!

But as far as sweet treats go, there is a huge amount of medically proven evidence to suggest that certain types of chocolate (the darker kind of at least 70%+) may not be quite as naughty as we once thought. There is a god!

On that note, Theobroma Cacao, the Latin name for chocolate, actually means “Food of the Gods”.

Sure, we shouldn’t be eating an entire bag of MilkyBar buttons for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That would be OTT. But if you’re thinking of having a cube or two tonight, go for it because you might actually be doing yourself some good.

Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is loaded with minerals, nutrients and soluble fibre that can help keep you fit and healthy. Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it’s one of the best antioxidants in the world.

For example, a 100g bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains 11g of fibre, 89% of the recommended daily amount of copper and 98% of the recommended daily amount of manganese. It also contains lots of potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. Still 100g (even of the dark stuff) amounts to over 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar. Everything in moderation is a good adage to follow here.

Now, let’s get into some of the benefits…

Studies have shown that chocolate can help to maintain proper brain function as we grow older. The flavanols found in cocoa are thought to reduce memory loss and the anti-inflammatory qualities of dark chocolate have in fact helped to treat brain injuries such as concussion. The flavonols can also help to protect the skin from the sun.

There is also proof that chocolate can make you feel better (if we didn’t already know!). It contains phenylethylamine (PEA) or the ‘love drug’ as it’s often nicknamed – the same chemical that your brain creates when you’re in love. PEA encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins.

If you take the time to source sustainable, ‘clean’ chocolate, that also brings a certain level of satisfaction. If the cocoa is farmed by those who care about what they’re doing, it tastes ten times better. Similarly, artisan chocolatiers are also becoming more popular as many chocolate lovers move away from the mass-produced, cheap stuff.

It can also be fantastic for circulation and the heart. Studies have found that dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also prohibiting white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels – both common causes of artery blockages. It has been shown to reduce levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise levels of good cholesterol, potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It has even been suggested that cocoa may be able to help those suffering from autism and even obesity. What’s more, researchers in Finland have proven that chocolate consumption lowers the risk of suffering a stroke – by a staggering 17% average in the group of people they tested.

Wait for it… chocolate can supposedly help you lose weight. What is this hocus pocus?!

Well, neuroscientist Will Clower says a small square of good dark chocolate melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the hormones in the brain to tell you you’re full, reducing the amount of food you subsequently eat. Finishing a meal with the same small trigger could reduce any midnight snacking too. Cocoa has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. So, small amounts of dark chocolate could potentially delay or prevent the onset of diabetes.

Another Finnish study found that chocolate can reduce stress in expectant mothers, and that the babies of such mothers smiled more often than those of non-chocolate-eating parents.

It goes without saying that while research shows that cocoa can have a beneficial effect on the mind and body, the reverse is true for sugar. Eating sweetened chocolate is still not great for you. Chocolate labelled as “sugar free” probably contains unhealthy artificial sweeteners too, so beware of that red herring.

Try and make sure your chocolate is at least 70% (85% if you can) dark chocolate and you’ll be on the right track.

This article appeared in the September ‘scrumptious’ of GSYLife magazine.

 

 

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