I chose to work in the insurance industry partly because I like to know that people are safe, protected, and therefore feel good. So, as it’s almost Easter, I’d like to share another feel-good thing with you … chocolate! And the fact that it is good for you in small doses!
Did you know that the average Brit eats around 11kg of chocolate a year? That’s about three bars a week! We all know that too much chocolate can pile on the pounds, but in smaller quantities it definitely has many benefits. Even Easter Eggs have beneficial effects!
1 – Mood boosting
Surprisingly, it’s not only the taste that makes you feel good. Even the smell and texture of chocolate stimulate feel-good areas of the brain. That’s because chocolate contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that stimulates production of serotonin, the brain’s natural anti-depressant. Experts equate the feelings it induces to those we experience when we fall in love.
2 – Great for heart health
Eating chocolate can lower blood pressure, thin the blood (reducing stroke risk), and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Apparently, this is due to chocolate’s high content of chemicals called flavonoids that stimulate the body to make more nitric oxide, which helps to widen and relax blood vessels, which in turn may help to lower blood pressure.
3 – Stop your arteries furring up
Flavonoids in chocolate also help to stop LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidising, helping to prevent the furring up of arteries. Flavonoids contain over 50% of an unusual type of saturated fat called stearic acid, which is present in cocoa butter. It’s this stearic acid that prevents the raising of bad cholesterol, and may even increase levels of the protective good cholesterol.
4 – Stops coughs
Chocolate also contains a chemical called theobromine. This has been shown to suppress coughing by acting on the vagus nerve, which carries messages from the central nervous system to the brain.
5 – Brain benefits
A chemical called epicatechin – found in cocoa and green tea – may also help protect the brain against the formation of sticky proteins or amyloid plaques that develop in Alzheimer’s disease.
What chocolate is best?
Generally, the darker the chocolate the higher the flavonoid content. But it’s not quite as simple as that. Nutritionist Sarah Schenker says, “It’s not a certainty that chocolate stating a higher percentage of cocoa solids contains more flavonoids. This is because a lot depends on the type of cocoa beans used and how they have been processed.”
The higher the temperature at which the beans are roasted and the longer they are fermented, the fewer flavonoids survive. Therefore, it is most likely that you get more flavonoids in a dark chocolate that lists cocoa beans, cacao, chocolate liquor or cocoa mass on its ingredients list, so check the label. Milk chocolate tends to have very few flavonoids, and white chocolate none.
Does chocolate make a good snack?
Yes! Surprisingly, chocolate is classified as a ‘low GI’ food, which means a small bar makes a suitable snack between meals as it does not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels after being eaten, because the fat content slows down the absorption of the sugar. The caffeine in chocolate has also been shown to temporarily boost concentration and energy.
Research also shows that chocolate is much less likely to cause tooth decay than other sweets because it only leads to a small increase in acid production in the mouth, and cocoa also contains chemicals that inhibit mouth bacteria. This means a small packet of chocolate buttons is a better choice of snack for children’s teeth than a box of raisins.
Superfood or not?
Whilst a recent study found the flavonoid content of chocolate was higher than blueberries and cranberries, bear in mind that it also contains sugar and, in the case of milk chocolate, fat, so the answer has to be ‘no’. Although, of course, fat is important in a balanced diet.
For the best health effects, try combining small amounts of dark chocolate with vitamin-packed fruits like strawberries and blueberries.
Sarah Schenker says: “Rather than thinking of chocolate as a superfood, regard it as a treat. If you eat it in small amounts (a few squares or a small bar), it shouldn’t contribute to weight gain and it will certainly not do you any harm.”
This edited article originally appeared on AXA PPP Healthcare.
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