Chocolate has been an ancient tradition in many cultures for years and is often associated with romantic love. One of the first links between chocolate and romance was established by the Mayans, who created a ritual beverage made from cocoa mixed with water, black pepper, vanilla and spices. Mayan brides and grooms shared the mixture during marriage ceremonies, and it is said to be associated with their god of fertility.
Although it’s always “sweet” to receive a delicious box of chocolates from the object of your affection, this sensual treat also has many health benefits. Here are eight reasons why you should indulge in dark chocolate.
Make Happy Babies
Really? Possibly. Dark chocolate has been shown to correct imbalances in the body related to stress and may significantly reduce levels of stress hormones. Women who ate dark chocolate during pregnancy reported that they were better able to handle stress than those who avoided dark chocolate. One Finnish study claimed happier babies of moms who ate dark chocolate during pregnancy. Could dark chocolate equal less crying? Hmmm…
Lower LDL Cholesterol
Studies have shown that subjects who ate about 1.25 ounces of dark chocolate a day had lower LDL levels compared to those who did not. The researchers attribute this to dark chocolates potent antioxidant content. (Have I mentioned the word antioxidant?)
Craving dark chocolate during certain times of the month? There may be a reason. Dark chocolate contains magnesium, a mineral that may help alleviate PMS symptoms, including cramps, water retention, fatigue, depression and irritability. Instead of reaching for sweets and sugars, reach for dark chocolate.
Experience Healthy, Glowing Skin
Flavanoids, natural antioxidants found in cacao help protect plants from environmental toxins and repair damage. When we consume flavanoid-rich chocolate, those same benefits help our body fight toxins, free radicals and oxidative DNA damage. Chocolate facial anyone?
Compared to milk chocolate eaters, those who enjoyed dark chocolate ate 15 percent fewer calories, and reported feeling fewer cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods. Love what you eat and lose weight? That’s right.
Eliminate The Winter Cough
Eliminate the winter cough: Dark chocolate contains an abundance of theobromine, which has been shown to relieve cough symptoms by suppressing vagal nerve activity. Similar to caffeine, but not as potent, theobromine can also help you feel more alert and awake. (Contrary to popular belief, the caffeine content in chocolate is quite low with approximately 26 mg per 1.5 ounces of chocolate compared to 160 mg per 8 ounces of coffee.)
Boost Brain Power
Dark chocolate contains the same type of antioxidants found in red wine and tea, which have both been shown to boost brain activity. Researchers have found that those who consumed flavanol-rich chocolate, wine or tea scored significantly higher on cognitive tests than those who didn’t.
One type of flavanol in dark chocolate is epicatechin which has been shown to reduce hypertension, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. How? Epicatechins stimulate nitric oxide production within the body, which acts to dilate blood vessels and reduce blood clots. Researchers have shown a direct relationship between the amount of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate and epicatechin levels in the body. More epicatechin equals more antioxidant power. (That said, this is not a green light to eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.)
Nichole Dandrea, M.S., R.D., is a nutritionist and yoga instructor who, during one cold dreary season, transplanted herself from Philadelphia to bright, sunny Los Angeles to create a healthy chocolate company. She now, ironically, reminisces about those chilly, rainy days. She believes that eating plant-based whole foods are the foundation to healthy holistic living, and can help bring vitality, peace and energy to your body, soul and mind. She also believes that chocolate should be its own food group. You can often find her listening and singing to her favorite beats while walking her 12 year-old best friend, Isabella, or while up to her elbows in chocolate. Read more about her healthy chocolates at nicobellaorganics.com.