Valentine’s Day: Dark chocolate is best

When it comes to health-boosting properties, cocoa content is key. Therefore, the darker you eat your chocolate, the better. Bittersweet chocolate contains up to 75 per cent of cocoa solids. However, some people may find this too bitter to eat on its own.

Dark chocolate, which contains around 70 per cent cocoa solids, is tasty and healthy too. White chocolate, which contains only cocoa butter and milk solids, has the least healthy effects. Whatever its colour, people should always eat chocolate in moderation because of its high-calorie content.

Chocolate contains the stimulant theobromine and also phenylethylamine which stimulates the same hormones as lovemaking. There are also small amounts of a substance called anandamide which acts a bit like cannabis, giving rise to the sensation of wellbeing.

Chocolate triggers the brain to release endorphins, hormones which cause your pulse to speed up and give you a pleasant high feeling, rather like being in love. Theobromine and also phenylethylamine in cocoa are also thought to affect levels of mood-boosting serotonin, which can ease depression.’

Cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids, antioxidants and polyphenols, the organic compounds found in fruits. They help balance any harmful effects of fat in chocolate. Antioxidants reduce the formation of free radicals which damage cells. Flavonoids help prevent heart disease and cancer. Cocoa is a good source of the minerals, magnesium, sulphur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and some B vitamins which are all needed by the body.

A study of 1,000 Swedish heart attack patients carried out by Swedish researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University reported that eating good quality dark chocolate seemed to significantly lower the risk of dying from heart disease. Heart patients who snacked on dark chocolate several times a week cut their risk of dying from heart disease by a factor of three.

Researchers from Yale University found that eating small daily amounts of dark chocolate lowered high blood pressure in their patients and seemed to also have a beneficial effect on their insulin levels.

An Italian study of 5,000 people reported that including dark chocolate in the diet significantly slowed hardening of the arteries, a major cause of heart attacks.

Migraine sufferers should beware that chemicals in chocolate which induce a mild high in most people may trigger headaches in some people with this condition. Chocolate is rich in the amino acids tryptophan, phenylalanine and tyrosine which act on nerve cells within the brain.

Chocolate also contains theobromine and caffeine which cause the hearts of some people to beat faster. Another side effect of eating chocolate is heartburn as these chemicals relax the muscle between the stomach and oesophagus, causing painful acid reflux

Stress and Chocolate:

  • Dark chocolate helps to lower stress hormones such as cortisol and catecholamines
  • Anxiety levels may be beneficially affected by chocolate
  • Energy levels are boosted
  • Ration yourself to small daily amounts of dark chocolate
  • Or like Casanova and Montezuma drink high cocoa content cocoa
  • Chocolate lovers benefit from oxytocin which induces a relaxed feeling in their brains
  • Oxytocin is also released by the brain during orgasm
  • By affecting serotonin levels chocolate may help keep depression at bay during the dark winter months.

Professor Andrew Prentice

Professor Andrew Prentice founded the Medical Research Council’s International Nutrition Group.

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