Let yourself be seduced by chocolate on Valentine’s Day

Studies show that eating chocolate can help your cardiovascular system, lower blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity

 

The seductive power of chocolate comes into its own on St Valentine’s Day. It wins us over with its lush taste, smooth texture and inviting aroma. So it’s good to know that there is no need to resist it completely. Better yet, you would do well to make sure you have some.

Research shows that eating chocolate can help your cardiovascular system, lower blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity.

There is a caveat, however. It must be the right type. We are not talking about Mars bars, but about dark chocolate, which has at least 70 per cent cocoa.

In his book The Food Hourglass, Belgian doctor and gerontologist Kris Verburgh explains that dark chocolate has unique effects because of the large concentration of a special type of flavonoid.

Flavonoids are plant compounds found in fruit and vegetables, but also in cocoa beans. They stimulate the cells in our bodies to go into defence mode and our cells start to produce proteins that protect us against toxic substances, according to Verburgh.

Beneficial effects

“Cocoa contains even more, and more powerful, flavonoids than green tea,” he writes. “Dark chocolate has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, it lowers blood pressure and makes blood platelets more sticky.”

The dark stuff also contains such minerals as magnesium, iron, potassium, copper and zinc, which are all key to health. Magnesium alone is needed in 32 processes in the body yet many people are not getting enough.

When actress and business owner Rita Smyth decided to get fit last year, she overhauled her diet but didn’t want to give up chocolate. “I used to have something every day: Aero, purple snacks or a Crunchie. I couldn’t open a bar without finishing it,” says the owner of Roleplayers for Training. So she slowly switched to dark chocolate. Smyth reached her fitness goals in six months and has managed to maintain it. “I still have chocolate every evening with a small glass of wine,” she says. “And if I get a craving for milk chocolate, I find it’s just too sickly sweet.”

A 2015 study published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition indicates that chocolate improves oxygen availability and may help performance in short-duration moderate intensity exercise, which may explain why US snowboarder Kelly Clark names chocolate milk as her go-to post-workout fuel. Chocolate is also associated with better performance on cognitive tests in older people and may help to reduce dementia risk, according to a study published in Journal of Nutrition.

Verburgh, who conducts research into ageing at Brussels University, advises that 10g of dark chocolate a day is enough to reduce your risk of heart attack. “You don’t need to eat a lot of dark chocolate to benefit from its healthy effects,” he writes. Unfortunately, those big bars of Lindt, Butlers or Green & Black’s have about 100g so it’s not a licence to get carried away.

Most chocolate that is sold as “dark” has about 60 per cent cocoa. Bournville has 36 per cent. So starting with that can be an easy way in if you are more used to milk chocolate. There are other benefits to dark chocolate. It has less sugar. A 100g bar of 85 per cent chocolate from Tesco has 15g of sugar, whereas 100g of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has 56g of sugar.

While it’s not exactly a health food, the magic is that good chocolate has a lot to give.

Rose Costello is a journalist, health coach and fitness instructor who works on a one-to-one basis and in groups to help people get healthy. See zest4life.com

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