Chocolate has long been relegated to the candy aisle, despite the fact that it contains many healthful properties. Want to know what types of chocolate are the healthiest? Or how to self-prescribe a dose of chocolate for many different ailments? Here’s a look at some fun facts about chocolate and how it can help give a boost to your body, mind and mood.
The past ten years have seen a huge increase in studies done on the health benefits of chocolate, but for most of us, it can be hard to separate the truth from the hype. The good news is: small amounts of some types of chocolate can be good for you. Dark chocolate is the best option for health because it contains the highest percentage of health-promoting antioxidants known as flavonoids.
Tasty Tips: Look for semisweet and bittersweet chocolate for eating, and natural, unsweetened cocoa powder for baking. The less processed the chocolate, the better it is for you. White chocolate has little to no flavonoids, while milk chocolate contains just a small amount. Doctors recommend keeping dark chocolate consumption to one ounce or less daily.
Chocolate is a proven bad-mood eliminator, and it turns out it’s not just because of the taste! One of the antioxidants discovered in dark chocolate, resveratrol, has been found to significantly boost endorphins and serotonin in the brain. These two neurotransmitters impart feelings of well-being. And cognitive behavioral therapists have long recommended using pleasurable distractions as a way to improve moods, including eating chocolate.
Tasty Tip: Try a small piece of dark chocolate next time you feel depressed, stressed or angry and see if it helps.
The flavonoids in dark chocolate can also help people with high blood pressure. These antioxidants increase the nitric oxide that dilates blood vessels. The result? A drop in blood pressure. Those with high cholesterol can also reduce their LDL (bad) cholesterol by eating dark chocolate, which inhibits oxidation of LDLs. The potent antioxidants found in chocolate also help curb inflammation, reduce cell damage and reduce the chance of stroke or heart attack.
Tasty Tip: Why not keep a bar of organic dark chocolate on hand and treat yourself to a square a day?
Dark chocolate contains stimulants, including theobromine and caffeine. When taken in small amounts, these stimulants can help you energize and focus. The flavonoids in chocolate help with this as well, by boosting blood flow to the brain, thereby increasing alertness.
Chocolate also contains a lipid called anandamide, which resembles THC, the active chemical in marijuana. While you would have to consume over 25 pounds of chocolate to begin to feel a similar high, anandamide does activate dopamine production in the brain, leaving you with a long-lasting pleasurable feeling.
Tasty Tip: Try adding a spoonful of unsweetened cocoa powder to a cup of decaf the next time you crave a gentle boost without the caffeine crash.
Do you use chocolate as a mood or health booster? Please share your experiences and favorite types of dark chocolate below.
Kate Steffens is a pastry chef, writer, DJ, artist, designer and all-around Renaissance woman. She is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and the University of Texas at Austin. She runs the rock-and-roll chocolate company, Straight Outta Chocolate. When she's not elbow deep in chocolate, you can find her reading, gardening, working on art projects and listening to old records.