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Easter is the time of year for friends, family and slight over indulging. Chocolate is a major weakness of mine and Easter eggs are of no exception. But, is chocolate really that bad for you? Read on and rid yourself of the Easter guilt.
Recent studies have found that chocolate may improve your brain power and mental health. The New England Journal of Medicine in 2012, established a loose relationship between that of countries with high Nobel Prize winners and country’s with high chocolate intake. Whilst I’d like to believe chocolate is increasing my intelligence, unfortunately there was no strong cause-effect relationship established. Ever wondered why chocolate makes you feel so good? It stimulates the release of endorphins, which is a natural hormone produced by the brain that generates a sense of well-being. Furthermore, chocolate contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid needed by the brain to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a mood modulating neurotransmitter that gives us the feeling of happiness. (Benton et al, 1999)
Chocolate has also been known to provide great benefits to the cardiovascular system. Dark chocolate contains flavanols which have an anti-oxidant effect, improve endothelial function, improve platelet function and reduce blood clots as well as decreasing hypertension and reducing the risk of heart disease. (3 – 5) Perhaps, a square of dark chocolate a day could keep the cardiologist away. Unfortunately, chocolate high in sugar and fat can contribute to cardiovascular disease, so choose wisely whilst in the supermarket aisle. Dark chocolate with greater than 80% cocoa and low in sugar, is the best for you.
Recent evidence has suggested that chocolate milk is an excellent recovery drink following endurance events. It has been proven to be an affordable recovery drink for many athletes, replacing our common commercialised sports drinks. Low in fat chocolate milk has the same ratios of carbohydrates to protein (4:1) as popular recovery beverages. It also offers fluids and sodium to optimise the athletes’ post-workout recovery. It is recommended to consume the milk immediately after exercise and again 2 hours later to ensure peak recovery and potentially a reduction in muscle damage (Pritchett & Pritchett, 2013). Sound crazy?
As I eluded too earlier, the type and amount of chocolate you consume is essential. The benefits of chocolate are found in cocoa and very few chocolates on the market are rich in pure cocoa. Cocoa has been mixed with other ingredients to make it more attractive to our taste buds. Chocolate high in sugar and fat provides the body with significant calories, if not burned, these calories can be the cause of obesity. Similarly, highly processed chocolate reduces the concentration of flavanols in turn reducing its cardiovascular benefits.
This Easter, I recommend you enjoy your chocolate, for some types have great health benefits, but always eat in moderation and balance with a healthy, active lifestyle.
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