Research indicates that the best way to express affection for your loved ones this Valentine’s Day may be to give them chocolate. Why? Because new and exciting research on the benefits of chocolate shows that consuming a small amount of good quality dark chocolate every day may be good for you. Sharing chocolate with a loved one is the perfect beginning to many perfect love stories, but the love story I’m about to tell begins with your taste buds and ends with your health.
For years, people have looked to chocolate to feel better and relieve anxieties. Women often notice and comment on the fact that indulging in cravings for chocolate seems to help with their hormones. People were eating chocolate long before they knew about the therapeutic action of chocolate. The more we learn about chocolate, the more it seems that satisfying our body’s desire for chocolate may be a sign of health; and people who listen to their bodies tend to be healthiest!
However, following one’s cravings is only healthy if one is eats real food, not synthetic, processed, or genetically modified (GMO) foods. Eating real food leads to health; eating non-food substances breaks the rules, and leads the body down a path of pain, disease, and destruction. Bodies are intelligent, but they aren’t designed to find and reject non-food substances. When the body isn’t given a choice, except to use these inferior sources of nutrition and calories to repair and regenerate cells, health will be compromised!
Dr. Royal Lee, famous nutritionist, inventor, and founder of Standard Process, explained that the body is designed to know the good from the bad when it comes to food. Your taste buds will tell you what’s right for your body. Even good food stops tasting good when the amount needed by the body has been satisfied. You will develop a sense of what your body needs when you begin listening to your body and eating a good variety of fresh, unprocessed, organic (or environmentally verified) foods. But if you haven’t always eaten this way, you may need to detoxify your body so your senses work properly – another important topic for another day.
One of the earliest documented uses of chocolate shows that it was consumed in liquid form in Mexico, Central and South America around 1100 BC. Used for ceremonial purposes by the Mesoamerican people, this drink remained bitter until it was learned that fermenting the seeds helped develop the flavor (Wikipedia).
All chocolate starts with beans from various varieties of cacao trees, called cocoa after processing. If you choose chocolate that has been combined with other healthy ingredients, chocolate can be included as part of a healthy diet. Chocolate has over 300 complex compounds and active chemicals, including flavonoids, such as epicatechin. Epicatechin is one of the most important antioxidants known for improving blood flow, protecting the heart, and its insulin mimic action which may prove helpful with diabetes (www.phytochemicals.info/).
Since chocolate is high in antioxidants, chocolate protects against LDL oxidation even more than many other polyphenol antioxidant rich food and beverages. Dark chocolate that has 65 percent or higher cocoa count contains 8 times more antioxidants than strawberries (www.about.com). For the greatest health benefit, look for dark chocolate that has least 65 percent cocoa in relation to other ingredients.
Phenols in chocolate have been shown to protect the arteries from plaque formation and may increase beneficial HDL. Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol because it contains healthy fat. The fat in chocolate contains approximately one third oleic acid which is a healthy monosaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil. Another third is stearic acid, and although saturated, research shows that it has a neutral effect on cholesterol. The other third is palmitic acid, a saturated fat.
Other chemicals that contribute to the healthy properties of chocolate are called alkaloids, including theobromine and phenethylamine. Theobromine is used in modern medicine as a vasodilator, diuretic, and heart stimulator. It’s also what makes chocolate toxic to dogs and cats. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, approximately 1.3 g of baker’s chocolate per kilogram of a dog’s body weight (0.02 oz/lb) will cause toxicity. This means that 1 oz. of baker’s chocolate is enough to produce symptoms in a 44 lb dog.
The mood enhancing properties of chocolate are fairly well known. Chocolate stimulates endorphins, has anti-depressant qualities by increasing serotonin levels, and contains theobromine, caffeine, and other substances that act as stimulants. Even local weatherman Chuck Gaidica named his recent book, Cuddling Is like Chocolate, because both chocolate and cuddling have the same effect on brain chemistry. The flavonoids in chocolate also help the body produce nitric oxide helping to relax blood pressure and balance hormones. Aiding the circulatory system, nitric oxide is known for improving certain aspects of romantic relationships.
The taste of chocolate depends on the region the cocoa bean is grown as well as the other ingredients in the chocolate making process. Only buy chocolate made with raw unprocessed cane sugar, organic evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, or pure maple syrup, not corn syrup or any other form of sweetener.
Consider how chocolate is made if you want to feel really good about your purchase. For example, is it fair trade or sustainably produced? Does it support the local economy? Is it organic? What percentage of cocoa and cocoa butter does it have?
Remember that for the greatest health benefit; plan to eat chocolate with the highest percentage of cacao. Have you ever tried cacao nibs? These are tiny pieces of cocoa beans that can be eaten alone by the handful, sprinkled on top of other foods, or mixed into smoothies. You can buy nibs by the pound from Mindo Chocolate Makers, a local chocolate making company in Dexter, Michigan that also makes a variety of delicious chocolate bars from organically sourced Ecuadorian cocoa beans. For another readily available source of healthy snacking, we carry the famous Belgian Chocolate Hemp Bars in my office. For more tips on chocolate and its benefits, meet me at Livonia Civic Center Library on February 24th for the “Let’s Talk Chocolate!” workshop!
So, how do you like the plan to follow your taste buds and live happily ever after? Some stories do end with true love…
Dr. William H. Karl, D.C.
Dr. William H. Karl, D.C., is a Brimhall Certified Wellness Doctor with over 30 years experience helping people experience optimal health – utilizing whole food supplements, herbs, homeopathic remedies, nutritional consultation, allergy elimination/reprogramming techniques, detoxification programs, gentle and advanced chiropractic care, cold laser, and Neurological Relief Techniques for Fibromyalgia and pain management. For more information, visit www.karlwellnesscenter.com or call his office at: 734-425-8220.