Everyone loves chocolate, don't they? It’s the symbol of romance, pleasure and decadence. And even better: everyone loves to hear that chocolate is good for you. So I’m going to tell you what you want to hear (hopefully) and explain with the authority of a nutritionist why chocolate should be an integral part of any balanced diet.
Chocolate is good for your heart
Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and flavonoids which can lower the risk of heart disease. These chemicals do this by fighting the free radicals in the body that can cause the build-up of plaque and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This can also help lower blood pressure and aid blood flow.
Chocolate also contains small quantities of PEA (phenethylamine) aka the ‘love compound’. This chemical stimulates the nervous system and triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins and serotonin, helping to lift your mood, relax and who knows... maybe even fall in love!
Chocolate can boost your brain power
Research has shown a clear link between consumption of cocoa flavonoids (the healthy part of the chocolate) and improved cognitive brain function.
Cocoa flavonoids accumulate in the brain area involved in memory and learning, and the caffeine content in chocolate can also help improve concentration, mood and memory. Therefore eating a couple of squares of dark chocolate together with a handful of nuts e.g. walnuts, can improve focus and concentration levels at work - perhaps convince your boss to make good quality chocolate available in the office, not just fruit…
Chocolate also acts as a stress reliever. If you’re getting stressed out, reaching for some dark chocolate could help calm you down. In fact, simply smelling cocoa has been shown to slow down brain waves and make you feel calm – although the willpower would need to be Herculean! A study conducted in 2009 showed that eating at least four ounces of chocolate daily for 2 weeks could reduce cortisol, a notorious stress hormone.
Chocolate can give you that much needed mental boost. A study involving elderly subjects showed taking cocoa could help improve mental performance within eight weeks. So if you’re heading for that post-prandial slump, a couple of squares of chocolate could be just the ticket for a more productive afternoon.
So what are you waiting for? Make chocolate part of your life now and both your personal and professional life may benefit.
Word of warning
Before you get too excited, there is one caveat: the chocolate must be dark and plain – sorry all you milk chocolate and sugar lovers! It should contain a minimum of 70% cocoa content and the higher you go the greater the benefits. I can manage 85% but 90%+ is way too bitter for me - definitely not for the faint-hearted. However, if you work up to it slowly, you should eventually acquire a taste for the more bitter chocolate and soon your milk chocolate bar will be consigned to the past.
As my motto is always "include protein with every meal, even snacks" a lovely healthy treat is to melt some dark chocolate either in a bowl placed in a saucepan with 1" of hot water or in the microwave. When the chocolate is melted, stir in some raw nuts e.g. almonds, Brazil, hazelnuts. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and when cool, refrigerate for at least an hour and voilà, the perfect snack to keep you happy, healthy and focussed all day long.