Easter is often an excuse to binge on chocolate, hot cross buns and other yummy treats. While it is important to treat ourselves occasionally, Easter doesn’t have to ruin all the hard work you have been doing leading up to it.
Written by Kasey Boorman – Nutritionist, HlthSci (Nutrition)
Dark chocolate has recently been discovered to have several health benefits. The secret behind its benefits is cacao, also the source of the sweet’s distinct taste. Packed with healthy chemicals like flavonoids and theobromine, this little bean is a disease-killing bullet. On its own, Cacao can be quite bitter and nasty which leads to the addition of milk, sugar and butter. This is good for the taste buds but not always good for your health. Besides adding calories, these can dilute the benefits of cacao. So, choose your chocolate wisely. Stick to healthy chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao (or cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted, ground form). As long as the content is that high you can reap the benefits from eating only small amounts. It is important to keep in mind that even dark chocolate can have high levels of fat and sugar so limit yourself to 2-3 servings per week.
Here are just a few of the health benefits of dark chocolate:
1) Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Heart
Studies show that eating a small amount of dark chocolate two or three times each week can help lower your blood pressure. Dark chocolate improves blood flow and may help prevent the formation of blood clots. Eating dark chocolate may also prevent arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
2) Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Brain
Dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain as well as to the heart, so it can help improve cognitive function. Dark chocolate also helps reduce your risk of stroke.
Dark chocolate contains several chemical compounds that have a positive effect on your mood and cognitive health. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release endorphins, so eating dark chocolate will make you feel happier.
Dark chocolate also contains caffeine, a mild stimulant. However, dark chocolate contains much less caffeine than coffee. A 40g bar of dark chocolate contains 27 mg of caffeine, compared to the 200 mg found in a small cup of coffee.
3) Dark Chocolate Helps Control Blood Sugar and Help Prevent Diabetes
Dark chocolate helps keep your blood vessels healthy and your circulation unimpaired to protect against type 2 diabetes. The flavonoids in dark chocolate also help reduce insulin resistance by helping your cells to function normally and regain the ability to use your body’s insulin efficiently. Dark chocolate has a low glycemic index, which helps to keep blood sugar levels stable, avoiding terrible ups and downs.
4) Dark Chocolate is Full of Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants help free your body of free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to cells. Free radicals are implicated in the aging process and may be a cause of cancer, so eating antioxidant rich foods like dark chocolate can protect you from many types of cancer and slow the signs of aging.
5) Dark Chocolate Contains Important Vitamins and Minerals
Dark chocolate contains a number of vitamins and minerals that can support your health. Dark chocolate contains some of the following vitamins and minerals in high concentrations:
The copper and potassium in dark chocolate help prevent against stroke and cardiovascular ailments. The iron in chocolate protects against iron deficiency anemia, and the magnesium in chocolate helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
So, choose dark chocolate for Easter this year and reap the benefits!