We always hear about how junk food is bad for you- and for the most part, we know why. After all, the name “junk” is right there front and center so there’s no way that anything labeled as junk food could possibly be good for you, right? Well, for the most part yes, I think that is true. And in my own personal quest for a healthier lifestyle, cutting down on junk food has been one of the biggest lifestyle changes that I’ve made. Has it been challenging? Sometimes yes. Especially when I need a quick snack. However, during my numerous Google searches (and sometimes late at night when the last thing I should be doing is snacking), I’ve come across a few articles on chocolate being healthy. Now, this isn’t exactly new news to me. One of my research papers at Maria College was based on the health benefits of dark chocolate. But is chocolate the new superfood? That remains to be seen.
Chocolate is full of antioxidants which are good for you, called polyphenols. Some of the main ingredients found in the raw form of chocolate, cocoa, are flavonoids such as catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidins. It is the catechin and epicatechin which help the body maintain health. Dark chocolate and cocoa have more of these polyphenols than milk or other chocolates.
Recent medical studies have proven that chocolate can help improve your cardiovascular health. Improvement of the arteries can be seen as early as three hours after eating chocolate. The improvements can be seen both in those eating dark chocolate as well as those ingesting cocoa; however, it is important to note that most commercially available cocoas will not provide these health benefits because the flavonoids have been removed.
The flavanols in chocolate appear to help the body use nitric oxide, which is crucial for healthy blood flow and blood pressure, which means that chocolate might help reduce hypertension as well. A study at University of California Davis found that participants who ate chocolate showed a reduction in platelet activity. This means that chocolate has an anti-clotting, blood-thinning effect that can be compared to aspirin.
Cacao has been described as the “food of the Gods” by the ancient Maya. Scientists are finally realizing the beneficial aspects of chocolate in relation to physical, mental, and emotional health. One ounce of dark chocolate a day can improve a person’s vigor and energy by up to 67% and in many cases much higher percentages.
Chocolate also contains the amino acids tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine. All of these amino acids increase the serotonin levels in the brain which acts as an antidepressant. In addition to the amino acids listed above, chocolate has also been proven to act as a stimulant due to the substance theobromine.
Many people may be surprised to learn chocolate, when taken in small amounts and with higher levels of cocoa, can actually help you lose weight. If the antidepressant amino acids and stimulant theobromine can improve the way a person feels, they may be less likely to overeat. Chocolate can also act as an appetite suppressant which can speed up your metabolism.
Scientists at Cornell University and Seoul National University examined the cancer-fighting antioxidant content of hot cocoa, red wine, and tea, and found that cocoa had nearly double the antioxidants of red wine and four to five times more than tea. Holland’s National Institute of Public Health and Environment found that dark chocolate contains 53.5 mg of catechins per 100 grams. (Catechins are the powerful antioxidants that fight against cancer and help prevent heart disease).
A Harvard University study of 8,000, with an average age of 65, revealed that those who consumed chocolate lived almost a year longer than those who did not. Those who ate one to three candy bars per month had a 36 percent lower risk of death (compared to the people who ate no candy), while those who ate three or more candy bars per week had a 16 percent lower risk.
A study of older men in The Netherlands, known for its chocolate, showed that those who ate the most chocolate, an equivalent of one-third of a chocolate bar every day, had lower blood pressure and a 50 percent lower risk of death. The researchers also noted the men eating the most cocoa products were not heavier or bigger eaters than the men who ate less cocoa.
And it’s not just dark chocolate that is the only healthy type of chocolate.
Most studies talk about the benefits of dark chocolate, but some of the most recent news about chocolate includes good news for milk chocolate lovers, who have been left out in the past.
The Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia did a study that shows that milk chocolate seems to boost brainpower. The groups in the test consumed, on different occasions, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, carob and nothing. Then they were tested for cognitive performance including memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem solving.
According to Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, “Composite scores for verbal and visual memory were significantly higher for milk chocolate than the other conditions.” The study also found that consumption of milk and dark chocolate was associated with improved impulse control and reaction time. It seems that by consuming chocolate you get stimulating effects from substances found in chocolate, such as theobromine and phenylethylamine, which then lead to increased mental performance.
Chocolate really does make you feel good, too. It is known to stimulate the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasurable sensation similar to the “runner’s high” a jogger feels after running several miles. Chocolate also contains a neurotransmitter, serotonin that acts as an anti-depressant. Studies in England show that even the aroma of chocolate gives a bout of euphoria and will help lift the spirits.
Are you surprised by any of these findings? Would you think that chocolate is the new superfood?