BITE STRESS OUT WITH CHOCOLATE!
by SHABANA GULRAJANI
There are so many people Ive spoken to that when Ive said the words ‘chocolate’ they consider it a guilty pleasure, some even go so far as to call it an evil temptation associating it to all negative attributes such as weight gain, tooth decay, sugar problems and the works. This is why im so fortunate that I have this opportunity to write and get this misconception cleared and give a more deeper understanding of the elements of ‘chocolate’ and that it can in fact be quite beneficial to the mental health of a person.
Chocolate is produced from the seeds of the cacao tree. The nibs at the hearts of the seeds are ground and liquefied into pure chocolate form, chocolate liquor. The liquor so to speak, can be separated into two components, cocoa solids (the nonfatty component) & cocoa butter (the fatty part).
Dark chocolate has a little fat and sugar added in. Milk chocolate as the name suggests has milk added in on top of the fat and sugar. White chocolate has only the cocoa butter and sometimes not even that, with vegetable oils added instead, in which case it isn’t really chocolate.
SO the less sugar and milk in the chocolate, the more bitter it tastes. But with that bitter taste (which varies depending on what percentage of the chocolate is pure cocoa), comes some possible health benefits.
The darker the better!
Eating small amount of dark chocolate daily
Studies have shown the following:-
- dark chocolate contains certain antioxidants called polyphenols that could help fight chronic inflammation of tissues in the circulatory system, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- contains much higher concentrations of flavanols compared to white or milk chocolate. Flavanols are felt to mediate some of the heart healthy properties in chocolate.
- people who eat a moderate amount of dark chocolate daily had lower levels of a protein associated with inflammation.
- makes blood platelets less likely to clump together into dangerous bloody vessel-blocking clots by reducing their stickiness.
- help reduce the chances of developing cancer because they combat the cell damage that can lead to tumor growth.
- dark chocolate is shown to be more filling than milk chocolate, suggesting it could reduce your cravings for other snacks or sweets.
- lower blood pressure.
- improved insulin sensitivity.
- increase good cholesterol, decrease oxidation of bad cholesterol, which leads to plaque accumulation in the arteries.
Dark chocolate has been found to improve mood by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. Even reports show that pregnant women who eat more chocolate during pregnancy give birth to more stress-free babies.
Reliable studies have shown that people who rated themselves as ‘highly stressed’ or who had ‘high anxiety’ levels to begin with, had lower levels of stress hormones/anxiety levels after eating chocolate every day for a few weeks.
Researchers provide strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40grams (1.4 ounces) during a period of two weeks was not only sufficient to reduce levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed, but also sufficient to even modify the stress-related metabolism in free-living subjects.
Studies also suggest that chocolate may ease emotional stress. I mean look around you! ask any women and they will tell you that a good dose of chocolate takes the edge off! You may even hear some people say “i eat chocolate when im stressed”.
When we are stressed our body signals out chemicals that raise our bloody pressure and help us fight the stressor. The chemicals or hormones are stored in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. What studies have shown is that people who consume dark chocolate before undergoing a significant stress/stressful situation (e.g. interview/exam) had lower levels of cortisol and epinephrine after the stress. The body’s response to the brain signals of stress was blunted. And the response of the adrenal gland, which produces cortisol was much less. And finally, since the body response was less significant, the people consuming dark chocolate reported having less feelings of stress during the process.
Less released cortisol and epinephrine with stress is important as these are strong stimulants of the heart and blood vessels. With repetitive stress over time, both the heart and blood pressure have been negatively effected.
Chocolate therapy has also introduced a delicious way to keep your skin and body healthy. This practice is very common in Europe. Chocolate therapy includes massages, wrap treatment, and facials all using chocolate. Even slimming treatments. It also brings anti-aging benefits responsible for firming and glowing skin.
Dark chocolate or chocolate rich in flavanols is a healthy food choice! Daily small consumption of dark chocolate especially also may help you deal with stress, not only how you perceive it mentally, but how your body responds to it.
OF COURSE it doesn’t mean you over indulge! I’m not here to encourage that. Moderation is key but a small trick I learnt was if the cravings for chocolate is just too much, research suggests a brisk walk could ‘curb the desire’ to eat that whole heart-shaped box of decadence! You have to incorporate chocolate into a balanced and healthy diet. Even if you opt for the healthier dark variety, it doesn’t take much to reap the nutritional benefits.