Is Chocolate Good for You?

Good news all! So chocolate is officially a superfood.

Chocolate contains high levels of antioxidants, polyphenols, theobromine, and flavanols.

Chocolate’s health benefits have recently been linked to;

– Lowering blood pressure

– Reduced risk of heart failure

– Reducing the potential for insulin resistance, and therefore diabetes

– Sun protection

– Stress reduction

– Boosting blood flow to the brain – potentially increasing short term performance and alertness

– Relief from diarrhea

– Easing Cough symptoms

Various University studies have been done, particularly across Europe and the United States, in to the health benefits of chocolate, many with surprisingly positive results. However, you have to question who is funding much of this research? It wouldn’t be large corporations such as chocolate manufacturers by any chance? One batch of research alone was from the Hershey Centre for Health and Nutrition. In no way biased then, right?

It is also worth noting, that the majority of these studies are based on short term effects and not long term research.

So before you reach for the Dairy Milk, let’s weigh up the evidence…

Dark chocolate is anti-inflammatory. So it makes sense that it has helped in the reduction of heart related problems such as stroke. However, the other ingredients that our chocolate is normally presented to us with may not be so positive. Standard chocolate bars are loaded with fats, milk, sugars, emulsifiers and other artificial ingredients.

The theobromine found in chocolate has been found to reduce the action of the vagus nerve, which is linked to frequent or persistent coughing. However, increased vagus nerve activity has been found to reduce epilepsy. Indeed high levels of theobromine can induce epileptic fits. And dark chocolate contains over three times the amount of theobromine of milk chocolate – so does not suit everyone.

Interestingly, it is the theobromine in chocolate that makes it so toxic to dogs.

Theobromine can be our friend and our foe. It can help with insulin sensitivity, asthma, blood vessel dilation and vascular performance. However, there is some evidence that over consumption of theobromine in pregnancy can have negative effects on the development of the fetus.

Theobromine has similar effects on the body to caffeine, so can be addictive.

Chocolate is also high in oxalic acid which can inhibit calcium absorption and general mineralization of the body. Furthermore, it can assist in the production of kidney stones. So should be avoided if you have ever suffered with kidney stones.

It also contains vasoactive amines, which can dilate brain vessels, stimulating headaches and migraines, so should be avoided if you are a sufferer.

In it’s favour, chocolate is rich in magnesium. It would seem that most “chocoholics” are actually lacking magnesium. If you do suffer from chocolate cravings, it may be worth trialling a chocolate detox and boosting your magnesium levels with other magnesium rich snacks such as avocados, cashews, seeds, almonds or eggs.

I can’t really go much further talking about chocolate without discussing the other C word most women think of – calories! My personal opinion is that our thoughts around our everyday diets shouldn’t be about calories per se, they should be about the nutrients. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore them entirely. And chocolate can be highly calorific compared to it’s nutritional value. So less is definitely more. Just 4 squares of chocolate a day can add up to 76,000 calories to your annual intake!

So if you still want to enjoy your chocolate. My recommendations would be;

– Try not to let it become a habit – more of an occasional treat

– The greater benefit is from the cocoa levels in dark chocolate so opt for really dark chocolate (70% is a good marker)

– Avoid highly processed brands as the high levels of heating destroy some of the potential benefits

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