Here is something that might surprise you. Eating some chocolate (please note some, not truckloads) is good for you. Easter is the time of year when we all indulge our love of chocolate. Yet at some point before Easter Sunday we will see a humorless health official on TV telling us about the “perils” of chocolate and how dreadful it all is.
Chocolate is universal. It is said that nine out of ten people say they like chocolate and the tenth is lying.
So why is there guilt about chocolate, and do we need to feel guilty? The simple answer is no. Chocolate is not intrinsically bad for us. At levels of cocoa of 70% it is actually good for us.
Lets look at the health benefits of chocolate. The good feeling you get is not imagined. Chocolate contains a phyto-nutrient, which is an endorphin like the body’s own happy hormone. The “high” from eating chocolate is similar to the “high,” runners get from endorphin release. Chocolate is virtually an antidepressant. Is it any wonder people turn to chocolate when they feel down? A Swiss study showed that eating 40g a day of dark chocolate lowered stress hormones in the bloodstream making people more resilient to stress.
Research has looked at the health benefits of dark chocolate and the results are impressive. A Swedish study showed that after a heart attack, those who ate chocolate at least twice a week had a three fold increase in survival over an eight-year period. A Canadian study showed a decreased risk of stroke in those who ate chocolate once a week compared to those who do not.
A German study of 19000 people over a ten-year period found those who ate a small amount (8g or two squares) per day had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower chance of heart attack or stroke. Australian research has found enhanced sports performance due to the effects of cocoa on blood vessels.
And to cap it off cocoa may help protect our genes by helping protect them from oxidative damage perhaps making chocolate an anti-aging food.
So what is in chocolate that is good for us? Cocoa is rich in potent flavinoid antioxidants. (10g dark chocolate has the same amount as a cup of green tea). Polyphenols in cocoa can reduce LDL, which is the “ bad cholesterol.” There are also good fats in chocolate.
Dark chocolate has lots of minerals including potassium, zinc, copper, chromium and magnesium. Many women turn to chocolate if they have pre menstrual symptoms. This is related to low magnesium. The body knows what it needs.
Why is chocolate viewed with suspicion? The answer is because it tastes so good. As a “pleasure” it has been seen as sinful. There are also linkages between chocolate and that other great “sin” of humanity-sex. Hence, there is the association of guilt.
Now this is all well and good, you may say, but you can get the most of the same minerals and antioxidants from other sources. This is where the extra dimension of chocolate comes in. Apart from providing goodness for us, our food needs to give us joy. Relaxation and fun are important for health too. Chocolate scores ten out of ten.
So the good news is that there is no need to feel guilty about eating chocolate on Easter or on any other day. This does not mean a bar a day and yes you can get all the above nutrients from other sources, perhaps without the same amount of enjoyment. The best is 70% cocoa and organic is great if you can get it.
As part of a balanced healthy lifestyle chocolate hits the spot. So enjoy without over indulging.
Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications, is clinical editor at Medical Forum Magazine, and is also a regular on radio and television.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma, Chairman of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and sits on the board of Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases.