Coming up to Easter, it’s going to be everywhere- eggs and bunnies in the shopping centres, at work, everywhere you go. But just how bad is it? Are there any health benefits from eating chocolate? How much is just right if we are trying to stay on track with our weight and health?
Research has found that when you eat chocolate, your brain releases neurotransmitters that make us feel happy. Dopamine makes us feel more motivated and gives us feelings of pleasure when we achieve our goals. Seratonin encourages higher feelings of self worth. Endorphins act to alleviate anxiety or depression, as well as being a natural pain reliever in the body. All lovely little side effects of eating something that delicious! Plus it contains a little bit of caffeine, but not as much as a cup of coffee, so you might get that little boost in mental functioning without the accompanying jitters if you aren’t a regular caffeine consumer.
Chocolate contains antioxidants, which are cancer fighters in the body. The higher the cocoa content, the higher the antioxidants, so choosing dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa gives the highest benefits.
Studies have shown that when following an otherwise low fat diet, that regular inclusion of chocolate helped to lower LDL cholesterol levels (one of the bad cholesterols linked to heart disease).
Protects against memory decline
It seems that chocolate helps improve blood flow in the brain, and protect against damage to nerves that play a role in developing Alzheimer’s Disease, so that symptoms such as memory/cognitive decline are reduced.
Reduced risk of stroke or heart disease
Regular chocolate consumption has been shown to decrease the risk of having a stroke, and if you do have a stroke you have a better chance of recovering from it, plus there is a lower risk of heart disease found with regular consumption.
The health benefits of chocolate come from cocoa/cacao, which on its own is incredibly bitter- and so milk, fat, and sugar need to be added to make it palatable. This is where you need to use your judgement in knowing that although there are health benefits, chocolate is also high sugar, high in saturated fat, and high in calories. In studies showing health benefits of regular consumption, participants have been following healthy diets otherwise, they haven’t been eating other unhealthy foods and including extra chocolate on top of this, thinking the health benefits from chocolate will counteract their other unhealthy habits.
Chocolate overconsumption has been linked to overweight/obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. So, as always, moderation is the key. See below for quantities of chocolate that equal to 100 calories (just right for a mid meal treat without blowing out your diet plan).
Hot chocolate (skim milk): 200ml
Cadbury milk chocolate: 3 squares
Solid chocolate eggs (small): 3
Lindt 70% cocoa chocolate: 2 pieces
Milo (hot, ¼ milk): 3 heaped teaspoons
Chocolate ice cream: 100ml
Dry unsweetened cocoa powder: 1/3 cup