In preparation for the Easter Holiday festivities, retail outlets and supermarkets have been decorated with the brightest and most beautifully-wrapped chocolate, candy, nuts and true to South African individuality, even biltong over the last few weeks. Eggs, rabbits, and chickens in every size, shape and colour imaginable gleam from shelves, aisles and display stands – resembling a scene from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.
Easter is often a time where family and friends indulge in a little well-deserved treat, however the subsequent guilt and sugar-crash can somewhat dampen the festivities. In the past, consumption of chocolate has been associated with obesity and weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, acne and high blood pressure, (to name a few) but recent studies have shown that moderate amounts of quality dark chocolate a few times a week can greatly improve your health.
Significant trials and studies have shown that chocolate, although high in sugar and fat, reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems, lowers cholesterol levels and improves brain function. Quality dark chocolate is far healthier than its “processed” milky counterpart – the higher the percentage of cocoa solids the lower the sugar and fat. Therefore, where possible, choose organic dark chocolate with a cocoa content of more than 70% for a delicious, nutritious indulgence that’s good for your heart and hips.
Regardless of your chocolate choice this last weekend, here’s why you should choose to indulge in dark chocolate from this point forward:
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate, when consumed in moderation, is a healthful alternative to other sweet and sugary treats due to its high percentage of cocoa and low sugar content – a 100g serving contains the following Recommended Daily Allowance of beneficial nutrients;
As well as other minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphates, zinc and selenium.
Dark chocolate is also a source of soluble fibre – approximately 11g per 100g serving (roughly half the amount of fiber women require and a third of the amount of fiber men require according to the RDA) – which slows digestion, helping you feel fuller for longer, and controls weight by limiting overeating and cravings for sugary and fatty foods.
High in Powerful Antioxidants
Antioxidants are organic compounds that assist the body in repairing damage to cells caused by free radicals and preventing oxidation from occurring. Cocoa is rich in antioxidant plant nutrients called flavonoids.
Flavonoids are part of the polyphenol antioxidant group; these are healthy chemicals found naturally in foods with a high cocoa content, such as dark chocolate, tea and red wine. These disease-fighting phytochemicals have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cell-protective effects.
Reduced risk of Cardiovascular Problems
Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa, and through evaluation in small but statistically significant trials, are presumed to not only have high antioxidant qualities but also to improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.
Flavanols increase the flexibility and dilation of arteries and veins by stimulating the production and release of Nitric Oxide, a chemical messenger that assists in blood pressure regulation. Theobromine, found in cocoa, increases heartbeat and dilates blood vessels, further contributing to a reduced BP. This essentially reduces the risk of vascular diseases like heart attacks, strokes and diabetes, and improves blood flow.
The flavanols and polyphenols, as well as trace amounts of theobromine and caffeine, found in dark chocolate improve blood flow to the brain, essentially improving brain function, performance and alertness. Regular intake has demonstrated significant prevention in cognitive decline experienced by the elderly, particularly those with Alzeimer’s.
Lowers LDL Cholestrol
Studies have shown that the cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate may lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and oxidation, as well as decreasing the risk of blood clots.
The fatty acid profile of dark chocolate is made up of primarily monounsaturated and saturated fats; heart-healthy fats that are not believed to raise cholesterol levels. Oleic acid (monounsaturated fat) may even reduce LDL. This doesn’t mean that excessive consumption will not result in weight-gain or other unsavoury problems. Dark chocolate is still chocolate, and chocolate is high in calories! Moderate portions a few times a week will keep the cravings and binging at bay, and still allow you to enjoy and savour the bittersweet treat.
Reduces Stress & Lifts Mood
Dark chocolate is thought to boost endorphins and serotonin levels in the brain and is high in magnesium, a mineral believed to contribute to lifting moods – hence women the world over turning to chocolate as a comfort food! Studies show that regular consumption of dark chocolate reduced stress hormone levels and partially alleviated the metabolic effects of stress on the body. Theobromine, known for its feel-good effect, is another contributor.
Who doesn’t feel better after popping a square of chocolate in their mouth?
It just tastes great!
Dark chocolate has a rich, intense and complex flavour best enjoyed in moderate amounts after a good meal.
If those all-too-familiar feelings of overindulgence and guilt have resurfaced this Easter, make a concerted effort to indulge in organic dark chocolate with a cocoa content of more than 70% for a delicious, nutritious, guilt-free treat from this point on.