Why Eat More Chocolate
Is chocolate healthy? If you scoff lots of chocolate, obviously not. But there are a host of medically proven ways in which good chocolate, which is to say dark chocolate, with a cocoa percentage of around seventy per cent or more — really is good for us. Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food, a sure-fire stand-by in times of stress, a reliable source of consolation when life has let us down, and a mood-enhancer and romance-inducer in more positive circumstances. But is it at all healthy?
The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL. Research is continuing all the time, and experts have already found that chocolate is good for the heart, circulation and brain, and it has been suggested that it may be beneficial in such major heath challenges as autism, obesity and diabetes. It turns out that we have several long-term observational studies that show a fairly drastic improvement. In the long term, it causes much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries and we should see a lower risk of heart disease.
· A recent study found that dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels - both common causes of artery clogging.
· In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by a whopping 50% over a 15-year period.
· Another study revealed that eating chocolate 2 or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect.
· Yet another study showed that chocolate 5+ times per week lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 57%.
· Of course, these 3 studies are so-called observational studies that cannot prove that it was the chocolate that caused the reduction in risk.
Given that we have a biological mechanism (lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL) hen I find it plausible that regular consumption of dark chocolate can in fact reduce the risk of heart disease. Chocolate consumption lowers the risk of suffering a stroke - by a staggering 17 per cent average in the group of men they tested.
It sounds mad, but cocoa has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. So dark chocolate - in moderation - might delay or prevent the onset of diabetes.
There are many controlled trials showing that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, but the effects are usually mild. The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide (NO), which is a gas. One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure. However, there is also one study in people with elevated blood pressure that showed no effect, so take all this with a grain of salt.
Chocolate can help you lose weight. Really. A small square of good choc melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the hormones in the brain that say “I’m full”, cutting the amount of food you subsequently consume. Finishing a meal with the same small trigger could reduce subsequent snacking.
The flavonols in dark chocolate can protect the skin against sun damage (though you'd probably better still slap on some sunscreen). Chocolate also reduced stress in expectant mothers, hence improving skin quality. And that the babies of such mothers smiled more often than the offspring of non-chocolate-eating parents.
Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is the same chemical that your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins. Flavanols are thought to reduce memory loss in older people, and the anti-inflammatory qualities of dark chocolate have been found beneficial in treating brain injuries such as concussion. As a chocolate lover I would also add that certain kinds of chocolate can be good for the soul: this is chocolate for which the raw materials have been grown with care by farmers who are properly rewarded for their work; then processed by people who take time and care in their work, and finished by chocolatiers who love what they do. It will not be mass-produced, and it may not be cheap. But it will be good for you, for your heart and your soul.