Chocolate“Go and play in the sunshine…” “Chewing gum’s bad for you…” “So is chocolate!” If you were raised by well-meaning folk who told you this stuff before it turned out that sunshine is carcinogenic, and gum can clean your teeth, then this Info Sheet may just bring the best news you’ve heard in a while!

That’s because there’s mounting evidence that chocolate is good for you! Yes, you read that right – chocolate is good for you! But before you dash off to buy a cart-load of cocoa, let’s look at the details: first, we’re talking about a little bit of chocolate; about 30g a day… That’s about half a dozen small squares if you’ve not got a set of scales on you…

Second, the type of chocolate is important. Just about all of the valuable stuff– antioxidants, fibre, flavonoids mineral, protein & vitamins – is in the cocoa powder… So we’re talking about high quality dark chocolate, with at least 70% cocoa content.

Also, avoid chocolate that lists corn syrup, glucose, maltose, milk fat, regular butter or vanillin… Instead, check that the ingredients include cocoa butter, unsweetened cocoa or cocoa powder, vanilla or vanilla beans. If it does, you’re probably barking up the right cocoa tree!

Finally, keep your eyes peeled for something called non-alkali cocoa, also known as ‘non-dutched’… Dutching is a process that makes chocolate darker and somewhat less acidic, but – alas – it also removes many of its antioxidants and vastly reduces its health benefits! So let’s look at what all this fussiness about the right kind of chocolate might offer in benefits…

Dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure:
Research shows that, in a group of 850 largely healthy participants, flavanol-rich chocolate had a small, short term – but statistically significant – effect in lowering blood pressure! Flavanols help generate nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to dilate, and they’re found in traditional cocoa drinks made with the ‘non-alkalised’ beans we mentioned earlier.

It could help you keep your faculties!
According to a study published in the journal ‘Hypertension’, chocolates with higher flavonol content have a positive effect on the ageing mind! After eight weeks’ drinking hot chocolate at night, elderly participants showed improved mental performance!

Chocolate doesn’t give you spots!
In fact, no one food, by itself, causes acne! Whilst there’s no doubt that an unbalanced and unhealthy diet contributes to bad skin, chocolate has a relatively low glycemic index. In other words, it’s not as sugary a devil as many fizzy drinks! And you might be surprised to hear us say you should steer clear of sugar free chocolate! Some of these contain sweetening additives that can upset your stomach.

It might help fight PMS symptoms and the menopause:
Chocolate is one of the best foods for providing your body with magnesium which, it has long been known, is associated with the easing of aches, pains and cramps! What’s more, magnesium regulates the production of some hormones, including progesterone! Nobody cares about that until they know that, like estrogen, progesterone is often found to be deficient in women experiencing hot flushes and night sweats!

So whilst further study is needed, many believe that keeping magnesium levels up may help beat those menopausal symptoms! Until there’s definitive evidence, you might consider – as Julie Pech implies in her excellent book ‘The Chocolate Therapist’ – part of your menopause treatment might be an evening on which you invite over some like minded friends, get rid of all the fellas, have a good chat, eat chocolate and drink a glass of Australian Shiraz!

Magnesium could also help fight insomnia, migraine headaches, mood disorders, muscle twitches and more! Now, we’ve already banged on about magnesium, but we have to stress its importance! Magnesium facilitates more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body including muscle, nerve & heart function, immune system support and bone strength! It helps regulate blood pressure, sugar levels, energy metabolism and protein synthesis… There’s even evidence to suggest that apathy, attention disorders, depression and irritability are related to Magnesium deficiency… So chocolate with a high cocoa percentage is certainly of great interest here, too!

Does chocolate prevent heart attacks and strokes? Some of Cambridge University’s research found that people consuming 63g of chocolate a week – somewhat less than we suggested earlier – had a 37% lower risk of heart disease, and a 29% lower risk of stroke, than those who consumed less! It’s been suggested that this is down to the levels of stearic acid in cocoa butter… Stearic acid is a type of saturated fat that doesn’t raise cholesterol in the same way some other saturates do!

Finally… Can chocolate mend a broken heart? Dark chocolate contains small amounts of a powerful amphetamine called ‘Phenylethylamine’… This stuff triggers a release of natural opiate-like chemicals associated with feelings of bliss! Now, brace yourself; we’re not making this up: phenylethylamine is the same chemical that your brain emits when you fall in love! And that means there’s a case for curling up on the sofa with some of the darker shades of Green & Black’s and ‘Fifty shades of Grey’!

So there you have it! A list of reasons to eat the right chocolate in moderation, marking the end of Karen’s selfless research on chocolate bars! Even as that research progressed, though, we were compelled to remind you that just tucking into a choccy bar is no substitute for visiting health professionals…

Sloane Square Clinic cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of any action or inaction based on its Newsletter or Info Sheets. In particular, of course, those with special dietary requirements such as diabetics should be hugely cautious! If you have any doubts or concerns over medical and health issues, our best advice is always to pop in to see us, visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 to discuss your health!