There’s something about chocolate that whisks away your problems and makes you feel better. The rich, melty delicacy helps you relax and feel better, and it even puts a smile on your face.
All chocolate lovers know that this sweetened treat is magical. But what if it’s more than that, what if it’s science.
Researchers, probably those with a sweet tooth, have been studying the brain’s connection to chocolate and found some very interesting things. For those of you who love any cocoa creation, it’s good news indeed.
The Chocolate You Need
Before we look at the potential value of chocolate, it’s important to clarify that milk chocolate, the light brown sweet stuff you find in most candy, is not the healthy chocolate. The chocolate you want to have for health is cacao.
All chocolate comes from the cacao bean, and it’s a bitter little bean that’s almost inedible until it’s fermented, roasted, and ground into a powder. This cocoa powder makes cacao chocolate.
If the cocoa powder goes through another processing of removing the bitterness, you’ll find what’s a run-of-the-mill candy bar. This process removes the flavonoids, but these are what contain the health benefits.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
If you love chocolate, you know that when you savor a piece, something happens in your brain. There’s a sense of enjoyment that can verge on bliss, but what’s really happening?
Makes You Smarter
A study looked at brain waves of participants who ate dark chocolate for eight days. They found that the group eating the chocolate had increased Alpha and Beta brain waves over the control group, which had no chocolate.
These brain waves are associated with memory, focus, and problem-solving.
Fights Brain Aging
Going a step further, a randomized trial looked at chocolate consumption and an elderly population. They discovered that regular chocolate consumption reduced age-related cognition problems.
They also noted an improvement in insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid peroxidation. These other areas are thought to be closely related to a drop in cognitive function associated with age.
Skip that morning coffee, and grab a cup of cocoa instead. An EEG study from Northern Arizona University looked at how chocolate affected the brain. They found that it increased alertness and raised blood pressure levels.
Even better news, a study combined cacao with L-theanine and found that the brain was still stimulated and prompted alertness after the chocolate was consumed. Still, the addition of L-theanine dropped blood pressure, removing the more “harmful” element from the previous study.
Before you rush out to buy this candy bar, it doesn’t exist yet. But there is a solution. LiveWell’s ZenWell uses L-theanine to promote stress reduction and neural protection. Add this supplement to your daily cacao fix, and you can feel more alert and not have to deal with blood pressure issues.
Reduces Sleep Deprivation
The negative consequences of sleep deprivation are in the news quite regularly. Everyone knows that having quality sleep helps your body rest and recover, but sometimes that’s just not possible, no matter how good your intentions are.
The “cure” might be to have some chocolate in the morning on days when sleep eluded you, especially for women.
A study found that eating flavanol-rich chocolate counteracted many of the ill effects from blood pressure and memory in women. While this isn’t a way to get by on less sleep and enjoy chocolate, it might be the boost you need to get through the day after a rough night.
What about the effect everyone who reaches for chocolate as a comfort food understands; cacao as a mood elevator.
An article in Psych Central points out that the mental health benefits from chocolate are not all in your head; they come from resveratrol, endorphins, and serotonin. These are all chemicals found in cacao that boost your mood. It’s also believed that the serotonin in your gut helps your immune system.
While everyone wants to hear that simply eating chocolate is the panacea to all that ails you, there is a bit of good news about cacao fighting disease. An article in Harvard Health Publishing reviewed a study that found that a dark chocolate addiction may decrease your risk of dying from heart disease.
Going even further, a review entitled Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease looked at several studies that examined the effects of chocolate on overall health. The study found that cacao is indeed a health food, but it cautions against overdoing it because the ramifications of the sugar and other ingredients have not been weighed into any guidelines.
The good news is that cacao does show strong indications of cardiovascular benefits, immunomodulating effects that could be important in the fight against infectious disease and cancer, and potential metabolic and psychological benefits.
Not all chocolate is created equally. While rich and sweet milk chocolate is the stuff of dreams, it’s the bitter counterpart, that is the stuff of medicine. Cacao is a bit of an acquired taste, but the health benefits are well worth it, and you’ll find you’ll learn to love it as much as milk chocolate.
Cacao is packed with flavonoids and other nutrients that may help your body fight disease and boost your immunities, stay alert and awake, and keep your mood on an even keel or even elevate it. There’s a chance that it can even make you smarter.
Of course, there’s also a downside to eating chocolate, the calories, sugar, and fat. Straight cacao is basically inedible, but when added to some candy-making essentials, it becomes a desired treat.
Just remember to consume your cacao or chocolate bar in moderation. A square a day might be a good start to keep you healthy and happy.
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