It’s that time of year again. Holidays, winter, outdoor activities, and indoor projects like settling in with a good book. These events can put our focus onto many special foods, including the loveliness that is chocolate. These days we are more apt to find chocolate in special candies, cookies, cakes, hot chocolate, and other treats.
It is no secret that chocolate evokes feelings of euphoria, contentment, and rapture in many individuals (indeed, it is a proven mood-elevator). But, it can also be called a “guilty pleasure,” something that is right up there with ice cream, cheese cake, and pecan pie. Perhaps some of us have to give ourselves a special pass in order to consume chocolate this time of year, or any other time, for that matter.
The Good News
HOWEVER, for those of us who follow such things, there is some good news about chocolate. It is good for us. What? And, if you look further, you can start to understand just why chocolate makes us feel god. SPOILER ALERT: I hope that learning about why it grabs us doesn’t ruin the experience for you. But perhaps knowing these things can help you ease off the guilt trip a bit.
So, here’s the deal. Chocolate contains a lot of good stuff. To begin with, it has flavonoids. Experts rave about flavonoids. They are also found in red wine, tea, and onions, and are part of why these items get good press. The reason: they have been implicated in cardiovascular protection, lowering high blood pressure, and increasing blood flow to the brain and extremities. Woo hoo!
But the good news doesn’t stop there! Chocolate also contains a veritable storehouse of natural minerals. That would include copper, iron, and magnesium. Then you also have antioxidants. Antioxidants help to protect against bad cholesterol and high triglycerides, among other things.
You may be saying, “isn’t chocolate high in fat?” Yup. BUT, it is one-third stearic acid, and one third palmitic oil. Neither of these fats will raise cholesterol. So, there is that. In addition, the other third of the fat is oleic acid, which is the same monounsaturated substance found in olive oil. Olive oil is the go-to oil in healthy diets everywhere.
Even More Good News
How about the (fun) stimulating part about chocolate? What is up with that? Can the stimulation also be good for us? At least sort of?
Apparently, chocolate contains a thing called phenylethylamine, which has some “drug-like effects.” In addition, there are “endogenous opioid peptides,” which can also make us feel pretty good. That’s just the beginning.
Perhaps the more publicized stimulants in chocolate are caffeine and a thing called theobromine. Caffeine has been in the good books lately for lengthening life, helping with endurance activities, and lowering the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Theobromine is sort of like caffeine. It is a stimulant, and is known for reducing blood pressure, and helping with lung function, among other things. (I am reminded of a race horse that got disqualified after a good run because they discovered it had ingested a chocolate candy bar before the race.)
However, you cannot rest on your laurels because of the caffeine in chocolate. A cup of cocoa has about 20 milligrams of caffeine, which is half as much as in an average cup of tea. A cup of coffee has about 115 milligrams.
Getting Rid of the Guilt
What is the best (guilt free) way to ingest chocolate? You guessed it…in its least processed, purest form. Unfortunately, that would mean subjecting yourself to an incredibly bitter experience. There has to be some added sugar involved. Getting your chocolate hit is best accomplished by consuming dark chocolate, with a high percentage of cocoa. That way, you can experience the yumminess and get more of the nutrients and perks that chocolate has to offer, all concentrated in a small amount.
Because of the sugar and fat involved, it is best to limit your intake, which will also limit the amount of guilt involved. But, a small piece of high-quality chocolate, slowly melting in your mouth, can be all you really need.
Happy holidays and beyond,
© 2022 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
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