Yin and Yang of Chocolate
With the Easter long weekend approaching many people are on the hunt for all the favourite Easter treats such as Cadbury milk eggs or Lindt chocolate bunnies. Before splurging on all that chocolate, you may want to consider the health benefits and detriments of choosing chocolate and why lots of people crave its unique flavor.
Why Do We Crave Chocolate?
When we eat chocolate the brain releases endorphins. In one study, the increase in dopamine was as great as the stimulant drug Ritalin when a small piece of chocolate brownie was placed in the mouth. Chocolate also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid responsible for us feeling calm, relaxed, and ready for a good night’s sleep. Tryptophan also aids the brain in producing serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter known as the “happy chemical”. The brain gets so happy it starts to crave more of whatever was responsible for the sudden rush of pleasure. This is how drug and food addictions work – reward, withdrawal, craving, repeat.
After the instant bliss of chocolate comes the sugar rush. Most chocolate bars exceed your daily intake of sugar and you are eating it all in one serving. Your blood sugar levels spike and you get a burst of insulin. Your liver tries to cope with all the sugar floating around in your blood so it starts turning that sugar into fat deposits to store and process later. If you’re making chocolate bars a daily menu item, you may be setting your body up for insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes.
Dark Chocolate is Healthy?
Dark chocolate is rich in the antioxidant called phenol. It reduces inflammation and protects the body from oxidative damage which can cause cancer and increase cell damage. Phenols prevent LDL (bad cholesterol) from building plaque in the arteries, while raising the levels of HDL (good cholesterol).
Chocolate, as well as most fruits and vegetables, contains compounds called flavonoids that help maintain a healthy heart, promote good blood circulation, and reduce the risk of blood clots. A bar of dark chocolate contains as many flavonoids as four cups of tea, six apples, or 2 glasses of red wine.
Chocolate contains tannins, which inhibit the action of bacteria on your teeth, preventing the bacteria from causing cavities.
Unlike dark chocolate milk chocolate has higher sugar content and also contains milk powder or condensed milk to make that creamy flavor. Unfortunately, the milk binds to the antioxidants and makes them unavailable for our body to use. The chocolate bars in the candy aisle are a mix of milk chocolate, sugar, and even trans fat.
To make a healthy choice when buying your chocolate, try to reach for a dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Make sure to limit your chocolate cravings to just one 1 oz. dark chocolate square each day, and eat no more than seven each week. Try to eat your dark chocolate after a meal or with some fruit to avoid overeating. You can indulge in chocolate without feeling guilty.