If you’ve ever experienced a chocolate craving, you will know that almost nothing else will satisfy it. Don’t feel guilty, chocolate is actually good for you! Here’s why you should consider giving in to your chocolate cravings:
1. Improved mood
Chocolate contains serotonin and anandamide, brain chemicals that make us feel happy. It also contains the precursor to serotonin called tryptophan. However, this might not be the reason we feel happier after eating chocolate. Brain serotonin levels only rise after eating carbohydrates when the protein component is less than 2%. Chocolate has at least 5% of its calorie content as protein, which negates the serotonin effect. Certain chemicals in chocolate extend the effect anandamide, but these chemicals are in such small amounts that they probably don’t have much of an impact.
Rather, eating chocolate activates the “reward-system” in our brains, releasing dopamine and endorphins. Chocolate makes us happy because subconsciously we associate it with feeling good. Eating chocolate is also associated with emotional eating; you are more likely to crave chocolate when you are sad or stressed than when you are happy.
2. Reduced effects of stress hormones
Dark chocolate reduces anxiety and the negative effects of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in the body. The antioxidants in chocolate blunt the reactivity of these hormones. The high magnesium content of dark chocolate also helps your body de-stress. Chocolate even seems to reduce pain levels!
3. Better cognitive functioning
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, a group of antioxidant plant compounds that gather in the parts of the brain that deal with learning and memory. Eating chocolate regularly is associated with improved cognitive functioning by promoting new brain cell growth and new blood vessel development in the brain. The antioxidants also protect your brain from free radicals and neurodegenerative diseases.
4. Weight loss
Studies show that people who consume chocolate moderately do not have a higher (and maybe even a lower) BMI compared to overweight individuals, even though chocolate causes their daily calorie intake to be higher. Cocoa polyphenols appear to stimulate muscle metabolism by increasing the size, activity, and number of energy-producing organelles (mitochondria) present in skeletal muscle fibres. This mimics the effects of regular exercise, to boost fat burning and increase lean muscle mass. Chocolate also improves insulin sensitivity, keeping your blood sugar more stable throughout the day.
5. Heart health
Dark chocolate reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. It has a dilating effect on blood vessels that lowers blood pressure. It also protects your blood vessels by lowering bad LDL cholesterol and elevating good HDL cholesterol. The flavonoids prevent the excessive clumping together of blood platelets that can cause blood clots, and reduce inflammation markers associated with cardiovascular disease.
Warning: All chocolate is not created equal
When we say that chocolate is good for you, we’re not saying that you should reach for your favourite Cadbury slab. No. Milk chocolate is loaded with sugar and has almost no health benefits. If you love chocolate, you should learn to love dark chocolate. You don’t need to love the 90% cocoa either, 70% will do. And don’t attempt to eat the whole bar; 30 grams of dark chocolate per day is more than enough. You can also add 2 teaspoons of raw cocoa powder to your smoothies, or consider drinking hot cocoa instead of coffee (2 teaspoons of cocoa powder dissolved in hot water with milk and sugar to taste).
Please note: Chocolate is not a cure for serious illnesses. If you’re experiencing extreme or uncontrollable cravings for chocolate and other carbohydrates, consider seeing a Functional Medicine doctor; you might have an underlying medical issue that needs attention.