Chocoholics, it’s time to cross over to the dark side – we’ve found seven reasons to feel good about indulging in chocolate this Easter
By: Maya Brosnan, as published in the Gold Coast Bulletin (Gold Coast Eye Magazine)
With the smell of hot cross buns lingering, it feels, since the first of January, there is no escape from the ultimate Easter temptation. But there are some good reasons to allow yourself, just for a change, to not resist any calorie dense, highly pleasurable treats the Easter Bunny happens to bring.
Before you begin to binge, please note that the more refined or processed the chocolate is, the less health benefits it holds. Dark chocolate, made with at least 70% cocoa is the one that holds the most health related benefits as well as organic cocoa and raw cacao powder.
Great news for the chocoholics!
Cocoa, used in chocolate, contains high levels of organic compounds called Phenolics and flavonoids. Those have a corresponding higher antioxidant capacity per serving than not only black tea, but green tea as well. It also turns out that chocolate has a higher antioxidant capacity than red wine. Cheers.
Research shows that good quality dark chocolate can help increase HDL levels (High Density Lipoproteins = “good” cholesterol), while modifying the composition of LDL cholesterol (Low Density Lipoproteins = the “bad” cholesterol), making it more resistant to oxidative damage. The increase in HDL may be due to the high concentrations of polyphenols in dark chocolate, while the positive effect on LDL may be due to the effect of the unique chocolate fatty acids.
Knowing myself, I would choose chocolate over aspirin any day. A few intervention studies in humans and animals indicate that flavanol rich foods such as chocolate and cocoa (or raw cacao) might have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, as they may inhibit platelet activation and therefore help to moderately thin the blood, creating a mild aspirin – like effect. This effect has been noticed 2 and 6 hours after consumption.
Chocolate is a rich source of minerals including magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Many women report of chocolate cravings premenstrually. These cravings may be related to, on a cellular level, mainly magnesium levels, which have a biochemical function in hormone production. Magnesium can also help relieve premenstrual cramps, back pain and mild anxiety as it works as a muscle relaxant and also regulates cortisol production and calms the nervous system. Zinc in chocolate can help contribute towards hormonal balance, while potassium can help relieve premenstrual water retention.
Chocolate has a mild GI (Glycaemic Index) of 40. The GI represents different food’s effect on blood sugar levels. High GI foods project a faster and sharper increase of blood sugar, while lower GI foods project a slower release of sugar into the blood, preventing a later blood sugar “crash”. Along with its rich nutritional content, it is fair to say good quality dark chocolate is a much healthier choice than lollies or refined and processed foods.
Studies suggest that both dark chocolate and milk chocolate improve cognitive function. It has been shown to improve mood as well as construct ‘energetic arousal’, making it the perfect treat to have while studying for exams or to help stay alert while driving long distances. These benefits have been related to compounds in chocolate called Methylxanthin and Theobromine combined with the mood uplifting effect from its’ caffeine content.
Consuming chocolate 15 minutes before exercise has been shown to enhance exercise capacity, spare glycogen (sugar) stores, delay fatigue and contribute towards replenishing glycogen stores after exercise. If you are looking at challenging yourself in your next gym session, run or bike ride, this may be the perfect fuel for you. But if your goal is to lose weight you should avoid having it prior to exercising. In that case, have your chocolate up to 30 minutes after a hard training session. It is then more likely to be distributed into your muscle glycogen stores and not be stored as fat (as long as you don’t consume an entire block!).
THE FINE PRINT
Dark Chocolate, as well as pure cocoa and raw cacao powders are the ones which are richest in nutrients and antioxidants. To get all of the health benefits of chocolate, go for 70% dark chocolate with a low sugar content. Some health food stores also offer dairy free as well as refined sugar free chocolate sweetened with stevia, agave or coconut sugar.
Chocolate is one of the main known triggers for migraines in migraine – prone individuals. If you suffer migraines, you may like to eliminate chocolate from your diet and watch for any improvements in your symptoms in order to determine if chocolate is the main culprit.
40-100 grams of chocolate a day have been shown to have beneficial effects on health, while larger quantities consumed too often can contribute towards weight gain and ill health. So remember to enjoy y
our treat this Easter with a great big smile on your dial but in moderation for the rest of the year.