Does chocolate really help with mental health issues?
Signed: Sweet but Doubtful
Dear Sweet But Doubtful,
Believe it or not, there is actually a fair amount of scientific research surrounding this very question! As many people (women especially it seems LOL) can attest, chocolate is a regular fan favourite when it comes to indulgences and sweet snacks. Beyond the pleasure we get from the sweet, smooth, silky goodness, there are actually quite a few physical health reasons that will help us feel much less guilty when we use chocolate to satisfy our cravings.
First let me explain – when we are talking about the health benefits of chocolate, we are referring to dark chocolate (over 70% cacao, at least) – not milk chocolate (which is so readily available in most of the candy bars and treats that we enjoy). Milk chocolate contains far too much sugar and not enough healthy properties to make it part of the equation, unfortunately. Dark chocolate is high in iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. And it has been compared to the “super fruits”, like blueberries and pomegranates, that we happily credit to a healthy diet.
Dark chocolate, eaten in one ounce doses on a nearly daily basis, has been shown to help reduce heart issues by almost 20%. Scientists report that it is the anti-oxidants and magnesium in the chocolate that help improve blood vessel function, reduce inflammation and regulate platelet formation (cited from the American Heart Journal and the BMJ). Dark chocolate has also been shown to lower our (systolic) blood pressure by 4mmHg’s – this compares to prescribed BP medications which lower this by 9mmHg’s.
Other studies have shown that dark chocolate is associated with lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes by 10%, even taking into consideration the sugar involved. The results of eating dark chocolate regularly/daily have been linked to the creation of healthy bacteria in your gut, the improvement of insulin sensitivity and the reduction of inflammation, especially for those with irritable bowel issues.
But it’s not just our physical health that dark chocolate assists with. Older adults who eat dark chocolate at least once a week have tested higher on various cognitive tests than those who do not satisfy their cravings. This tasty treat has been proven to help protect against ailments like Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. The compounds in dark chocolate improve concentration and help us feel good. Therapists everywhere will confirm the usefulness of enjoying dark chocolate on a daily basis as a reasonable substitute to the prescribed medications used in the treatment of mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
So, no need for guilty feelings! Go ahead and dive in, in appropriately moderate amounts (one ounce per day, 5 to 6 times a week). Indulge in your favourite dark chocolate treats (steer away from extra add-ins), and know that you are helping your physical, mental and emotional health every time that you do!
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