Chocolate – good or bad treat?

Did you know that chocolate has a higher level of antioxidants (measured by the ORAC score) than green tea or blue berries? Cocoa beans are rich in flavinoids, especially catechins, a type of antioxidant. But before you reach for that bar of Cadburys or Mars, think again. Milk chocolate doesn’t cut it; it has to be at least 50% cocoa content to count. And experts believe that milk somehow binds to the flavinoids making them unavailable for us to use.  Dark chocolate also has a good amount of magnesium, iron, potassium and chromium.

But chocolate is also usually loaded with sugar and added fat, so you need to be careful what you buy, and don’t go mad with it. Make sure it is good quality and the fat is stearic acid which, although it is a saturated fat, doesn’t have any effect on cholesterol levels.  

It does have a small amount of caffeine too – approximately 20mg in a 30g bar – which is probably partly why it picks us up well, but it’s much lower than the average cup of coffee, and especially of the coffee house varieties which are often horrendously high in caffeine – and sugar.

So how much is good? It is said that up to 4 squares of chocolate can improve mind action and strengthen immune responses, but more can reverse the process so we’re not talking a lot here. Combine a bit of chocolate with a palmful of almonds or pumpkin seeds or some fruit to make a good snack.

Why do we go for chocolate so much? It’s simply one of the best feel-good foods around. It is known to boost endorphins in the same way as exercise does (and exercise is a lot less fattening!) and people often go for it in the afternoon or evening when their serotonin levels are low. Serotonin is one of our feel-good brain chemicals and too little can cause us to feel anxious, low and crave something to pick it up – in comes chocolate!

Chocolate also contains some other pretty powerful chemicals. theobromine, salsolinol, PEA and amandamine (a marijuana-like chemical). All of these are stimulating or affect our mental state and mood in some way – no wonder it’s so addictive. There is a lot of research coming out at the moment about how good chocolate is for you. I suspect chocolate manufacturers are pretty happy about it anyway, but remember – 4 chunks combined with protein is good, any more is not so keep it limited and go for the best you can afford. Yum..


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