Well, from a nutrition prospective, it seems there’s a growing body of evidence that is seeing that chocolate’s benefits reach far and beyond the silencing of young children on a sunny Easter Sunday morning. Dark chocolate has a long history of being used as a healing plant, a mood enhancer, and even an aphrodisiac.
The key health-providing component of chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which all chocolate is derived from. The higher the cocoa content, the more health benefits there are. Cocoa is a good source of iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc. It also contains the antioxidants catechins and procyanidins. These antioxidants helps neutralise free radicals in the body that are byproducts of metabolism and our environment.
Other results seen upon the body are interesting and almost seem counter intuitive to the negative consequences of too much sweetness in the diet. For example, both the supplementing of cocoa extract and eating dark chocolate is linked to better blood flow and improved insulin sensitivity.
When the body absorbs epicatechin, a bioactive compound within coca, it activates an insulin signalling pathway, which causes a mild increase in glucose uptake. Increased glucose uptake means the body is able to take in sugar from the blood more effectively. It can also increase the production of Nitric Oxide, a molecule that widens blood vessels and improves blood flow around the body.
Keeping with this theme, Scientists at Harvard Medical School suggest that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain healthy and reduce memory decline in older people. The researchers found that hot chocolate helped improve blood flow to parts of the brain where it was needed. This greater blood flow helps as parts of the brain needs greater amounts of energy to complete tasks. As such, increased blood flow to such areas can improve this.
A further study, published in 2014, researchers found that a cocoa extract called lavado could perhaps reduce or prevent damage to nerve pathways found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This means that symptoms of the condition, such as cognitive decline, could be slowed.
According to another study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, chocolate consumption might also help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which are the cholesterol that can cause plaque buildup in the arteries.
Other research indicates benefits from reduced risks of heart disease and strokes, too improved fetal growth in pregnant women. Further research shows improved athletic performance in athletes to a study showing improved cognitive functioning with those consuming dark chocolate on a weekly basis.
So, there you have it, more than a couple of damn good reasons to up your chocolate intake! But my dear friends, a word to the wise, not all chocolate is created equal. Although the many health benefits have been listed, a high sugar content will mitigate against many of these benefits, spiking your blood sugars and causing an inflammatory effect on the body. In order to get the most out of your choc, choose one that is 75% cocoa minimum. Or, if hot chocolate is your bag, use plain cocoa powder and if sweetening is needed, add something like a small amount of stevia. This is as many of the hot chocolate products are contaminated with excess sugar and preservatives.
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