Chocolate has been used in ceremonial rituals for years and is often associated with being in love. One of the first connections between chocolate and romance was created by Mayans, who celebrated with 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, cacao has been used in the Americas for thousands of years for both its medicinal properties and its mood-altering effects. While the folks in Mesoamerica innately knew about the benefits of chocolate long before any studies, the research on its effects with specific conditions has been popular of late. There are approximately 380 known chemical compounds in cacao, but the phytosterols or antioxidants, contribute, for the most part, to the medicinal qualities. The theobromine contributes to the euphoric feeling after eating chocolate, and also contains medicinal qualities.
Here are some of the powerful effects of chocolate as shown by recent research:
Dark chocolate may help to decrease stress in expecting mamas and make happy babies.
Dark chocolate has been shown to correct imbalances in the body related to stress and may significantly reduce levels of stress hormones. One study looked at 300 women who ate dark chocolate during pregnancy who reported that they were better able to handle stress than those who avoided dark chocolate. The study also claimed that babies of moms who ate dark chocolate during pregnancy were less frustrated, less fearful and more easily soothed. Could dark chocolate equal less crying? Perhaps!
Dark chocolate may lower LDL (bad) and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Studies have shown that subjects who ate 1.25 ounces of dark chocolate a day had lower LDL and higher HDL levels compared to those who did not. The researchers attribute this to dark chocolates potent antioxidant content.
Dark chocolate may alleviate PMS.
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.
Dark Chocolate may help to create healthy, glowing skin.
Flavonoids, natural antioxidants found in cacao, help protect plants from environmental toxins and repair damage. When we consume flavonoid-rich chocolate, those same benefits help our body fight toxins, free radicals and oxidative DNA damage. Also, nitric oxide (a substance produced in our system from eating flavonoids) helps to increase circulation and blood flow, possibly delivering more nourishment to the skin. Who wants a chocolate facial?
Dark chocolate may help with weight loss.
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? Sign us up!
Dark Chocolate may 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. (Ps. 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.)
Dark chocolate may boost brain-power.
Dark chocolate contains similar types of antioxidants found in red wine and tea, which have been shown to boost brain activity and increase ability to focus. Researchers have found that those who consumed flavanol-rich chocolate, wine or tea scored significantly higher on cognitive tests than those who didn’t.
Dark chocolate may increase circulation.
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 (there’s that substance again!) 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.
Should you purchase organic or conventional (non-organic) chocolate? It’s best to make sure that the dark chocolate you consume is made with organic cacao beans since organic chocolate has been shown to have higher levels of powerful antioxidants compared to non-organic chocolate.
Bottom line? Enjoy 1-2 ounces of good quality dark chocolate each day. It’s a healing plant-based food that can easily be part of your healthy routine.
Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RD is a dietitian nutritionist and yoga instructor who believes that eating plant-based whole foods are the foundation to healthy holistic living. She also believes that chocolate should be its own food group. She created nicobella organics chocolate to let people know that plant-based eating can be delicious, and uses the nicobella platform to help inspire people to be more kind to their bodies, the earth and to animals. When not in chocolate-world you can find her volunteering at a local animal shelter, teaching a yoga class or hiking with her husband, Ricky, and pooch, Isabella.8