While trying to decide the age-old dilemma of which end of a chocolate bunny to bite into first, are the words flavonoids, serotonin, and healthy fats hopping about in your mind?
One of our many obsessions in the BodyZone is the importance of healthy food. How healthy are those chocolate bunnies, chicks and eggs for you? If you find the right kind of chocolate they might actually be good for you!
Before you trade in your fruits and veggies for chocolate, remember that what most of us think of as chocolate bars are actually candy bars – loaded with sugar, excess fats, and added flavours and colours. Unfortunately, many of the holiday novelty chocolates fall into this category. These usually contain very little actual chocolate in them and eating too much can contribute to weight gain, heart disease and high blood sugar.
The trick is to make sure the chocolate you are eating is of good quality, with very few extra ingredients, and contains at least 60% cocoa. You also want to make sure you are consuming very small amounts as it still may contain sugar and lots of calories.
What exactly is it about chocolate that can make it good for you? The health benefits are all found in the cocoa:
Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a chemical produced in your brain associated with feelings of happiness and relaxation.
Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant found in cocoa. They help cells resist and repair damage caused by normal body processes such as breathing, and environmental toxins. (Other foods that contain flavonoids are blueberries, some teas and red wine.) Research shows that flavonoids may also have cardiovascular benefits and can increase blood flow to the heart and brain.
Cocoa solids also contain theobromine, a type of stimulant, with similar properties as caffeine.
Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat (Omega-9) is also found in cocoa butter. It is the same type of fat found in olive oil and can help to reduce LDL cholesterol.
Real chocolate starts with cocoa beans grown from a plant called Theobroma cacao. Through an extensive process that begins with fermentation, the end results in cocoa solids, cocoa butter and liquor. These are the main ingredients of good chocolate.
There are also a few variations of chocolate:
If you want to reap the real benefits of chocolate, try to purchase a high quality bar with little added sugar and extra ingredients, and make sure it contains at least 70% cocoa. The taste may take a little getting used to for some, but you will find that the flavour is so intense you only need a small piece of a bar to satisfy your craving!
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