What's the deal with this sinfully delicious food? Are the claims true? Is it good for us, bad for us, an aphrodisiac, love potion or antidepressant? Chocolate has gotten mixed reviews in the world of health and it is time to set the record straight.
In the worst of times, chocolate can be the best of friends. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a neurotransmitter that is released by neurons at moments of euphoria. PEA stimulates a neurotransmitter called anandamide, which provokes a natural "high" and releases pleasant feelings as well as having a calming effect on the neurological system helping to lessen anxiety and make us feel more relaxed. And there is even more to this super yummy super food.
Nutritional Highlights of Dark Chocolate:
- Contains flavonoids (plant pigments) that are responsible for antioxidant activity and are important for protecting against damage to the lining of the arteries.
- Chocolate can reduce sensitivity to pain because of the high amounts of flavonoids which prevent blood platelets from aggregating – a similar action to aspirin.
- Unlike some saturated fats, the saturated fat in chocolate does not elevate cholesterol levels.
- Acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, regulating blood pressure and blood flow because of the high levels of arginine – an amino acid that stimulates nitric acid, allowing the blood vessels to dilate.
- Stimulates endorphin production, which gives a feeling of pleasure.
- Contains serotonin, which acts as an antidepressant.
- Contains theobromine, caffeine and other substances that are stimulants, which can be helpful in helping to increase concentration and focus.
Now hold on before you run off to buy a chocolate bar! Not all chocolate is created equal. Chocolate is still a very high fat food usually loaded with dairy products, fillers and sugar.
What To Look For In A Quality Chocolate:
- High quality semi-sweet dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or more.
- Fair-trade and organic to ensure your cacao beans are coming from a good source and are pesticide- and GMO-free.
- Sweetened with raw organic cane sugar or honey.
- Dark chocolate. (Milk chocolate is usually loaded with modified milk ingredients high in saturated fat and tons of sugar.)
- Read labels and pass on chocolate with artificial flavors.
How much chocolate should you eat?
- When it comes to a bar of good quality dark chocolate, two-three small squares should be more than enough to satisfy your sweet tooth and give you the health benefits of this delicious food. (But no more than three times per week.)
- Chocolate still contains small amounts of caffeine, so if you are caffeine sensitive remember to enjoy your chocolate earlier in the day.
- Eat the chocolate slowly… enjoy and savor every sweet moment.
Source: Murray, Michael. Encyclopedia of Healing Foods . Atria Books, 2005.