According to Lee S. Berk, DrPH, a researcher in psychoneuroimmunology and food science, two recent studies confirm that chocolate not only relieves stress and lifts your mood, it also improves your memory.
But, can anything that tastes so darn good be good for you?
Is it stress relief at the expense of good health?
And, what about that old saying "a moment on the lips - a lifetime on the hips"?
Here’s the deal: chocolate does have an important place in a healthy diet - even during weight loss.
In fact, according to neuroscientist Will Clower, chocolate can actually help you lose weight.
In his book, Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight, Dr. Clower says that eating a small amount of chocolate before and after meals can help you eat less by reducing your appetite by 50%!
And, it gets better.
Dark chocolate is a rich source of Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). MUFAs assist in speeding up your metabolism to burn fat faster.
As if that’s not enough, chocolate is low on the glycemic index and contains flavanols that help improve insulin sensitivity - a key factor in weight loss.
But that’s just part of the story…
Even if weight loss isn't on the agenda, dark chocolate has too many health benefits to be ignored.
Chocolate increases blood flow to the brain, which improves cognitive functions such as memory.
And, in addition to reducing stress hormones, the chemical compounds in chocolate encourage the brain to release those "don't worry/be happy" endorphins.
Check out The Brain/Mood/Food Connection to see how dark chocolate and other foods influence your moods.
Need more reasons to treat yourself to chocolate?
- Not only is chocolate an anti-inflammatory, but it can also help alleviate pain in women suffering from fibromyalgia, as well as help lower the risk of stroke.
- Chocolate also increases hydration, protects the skin from damaging sun rays, and reduces bad cholesterol levels while increasing the good levels.
- Chocolate also has a high concentration of potassium which helps balance out some of the negative effects of our sodium intake.
But here’s the catch:
(yea, you knew it was coming) There's a specific type of chocolate with these wonderful benefits - and it's probably not your favorite candy bar.
To reap the health benefits of consuming chocolate, you have to select dark chocolate containing a high concentration of cacao (preferably) or cocoa - ideally a target of 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar.
What's the difference between cacao and cocoa?
While they originate from the same source (beans from the cacao plant), the processing - and thus the final product - is very different.
Put simply, cacao powder is the unprocessed form and all of the hundreds of compounds present in the bean retain their nutritional value.
Cocoa powder is the processed form and, while it still has some healthy properties, it has greatly reduced nutritional value.
The good news
Dark chocolate is both readily available and relatively inexpensive.
You can buy either cacao or cocoa powder from pretty much any grocery store at a reasonable price. The typical price for 8oz of cacao powder is around $7; the typical price for 8oz of Cocoa powder is around $3.50.
The bad news
Cacao powder, on its own, has a rather bitter taste that is nothing like the flavor most of us think of when we want our chocolate fix.
On the other hand, if you're into baking, you'll find there are plenty of ways to combine the powder with fruits, nuts and dairy substitutes (like almond milk) to reap the full benefits while enjoying the chocolatey goodness.
It can be easy, and even fun, to find new ways to incorporate cacao into your favorite recipes.
Additionally, cacao can be purchased in forms other than powder, such as nibs and bars, for baking traditional goodies.
But, what if you want to get the benefits without baking?
A single tablespoon of cacao with a drop of vanilla extract, a teaspoon of honey and a pinch of salt mixed into 1 1/2 cups boiling water makes a delicious and antioxidant-rich drink on a cold day.
And, my personal favorite is a quick and easy 100 calorie smoothie. Simply combine a cup of fresh strawberries, 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt. a couple drops of vanilla extract and two tablespoons of cacao powder in a blender, blend until smooth and pop in the freezer until firm but not frozen.
Try it today...you'll thank me at the first spoonful!