The Chocolate High – Just your Imagination?
Chocolate really is good for you.
Most people agree that chocolate makes you feel good - having the chocolate high. We reach for chocolate when we are feeling bad in an attempt to make us feel better; that is until the guilt kicks in.
What if, however, chocolate really did make us feel good and we could learn how to use it for maximum effect. I use chocolate in my nutritional therapy practice for several reasons, often if someone is a confirmed chocoholic it doesn't make sense to deprive them of something which they enjoy, especially when I am asking them to make changes in other areas of their life which will bring them greater benefit.
I use chocolate in various recipes I give to clients to assist them in combating depression and increase their blood sugar stabilisation and to give their energy levels a lift. It has also been shown in studies to lower blood pressure. So the chocolate high really does exist and it’s beneficial to health.
The research on this question appears to be an unequivocal no. Firstly common sense will show us the difference between different types of chocolate based on cocoa content. All data was taken from the same chocolate manufacturer:
It is easy to see from this table that the cocoa content of the chocolate makes a vast difference to the amount of sugar in the chocolate, which from a nutritional point of view is the most damaging element to health, contributing to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular problems, lowered immunity and increasing ageing in the body. The lowest cocoa content chocolate (30%) has 50% of its content in the form of sugar. Conversely 70% cocoa content, dark chocolate has 25% of its content in the form of sugar and 85% cocoa content dark chocolate has 20% sugar content. This makes it quite clear that any health benefits from chocolate eating are going to be enhanced with the increase in cocoa content and decreasing sugar content.
There is another ingredient in chocolate which can make or break whether you get benefit from eating chocolate or not and that is the milk content. Studies have shown that eating a 100g, yes a whole 100g of dark (70%+ cocoa content chocolate) a day, will lower blood pressure. This benefit was eradicated when a glass of milk was also drunk at the same time. So if you want the “feel good factor” from a chocolate high, you need to eat chocolate that has 70% cocoa content or above and which doesn't contain any milk.
Chocolate comes from a bean and that bean is highly nutritious, with many elements that are vital to health such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids (from protein that has been digested). The mineral content includes magnesium which is an important element in metabolism and is very beneficial in relaxing the muscles and reducing stress levels. The amino acid content of chocolate can help the brain to produce serotonin which is one of our happy brain chemicals and to open up the blood vessels, which explains the blood pressure lowering effect of chocolate. The native population from South America who traditionally drink several cups of hot chocolate a day, (not made with milk), have no issues with high blood pressure. The same people who move to North America and change this habit will exhibit the same problems with blood pressure as the rest of the population.
The really interesting aspect of chocolate, however, concerns the effect it has on our mood. Chocolate contains several chemicals which act on the brain directly, which probably explains the reason that we find it so appealing and love the feeling of the chocolate high.
Caffeine and caffeine-like chemicals will stimulate the brain and keep it awake and focused Cannabinoid type chemicals calm the brain down and act as a natural pain killer. The combination of the two together gives a feeling of being relaxed and alert which is a very pleasant feeling. When you add a range of antioxidants to the mix which are anti-inflammatory and anti-aging it is easy to see why “a little of what you fancy does you good!”
If you are interested in understanding more about how nutrition and focussing on your food and lifestyle changes can assist your health and wellbeing contact Jane Jamieson PhD, www.enabling-health.com
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