You may expect a rant about Halloween chocolate or a self-righteous monograph about how I don’t eat junk candy. But, to be honest, I love candy corn and Swedish fish and even Milky Way bars! We don’t eat too many sweets, but every once in a while, the candies from my childhood provide that comfort of sugary deliciousness.
Our apartment complex didn’t get any trick-or-treaters last year, so we don’t expect many (if at all) this year either. Still, we have our costumes ready to go (Carmen Sandiego and Wayne’s World – pictures to come) and some baby pumpkins decorating our front step.
So, today I’d like to take a positive spin on this mostly unhealthy holiday to cover some of the research on the health benefits of chocolate.
First, some caveats:
- I’m not going to claim that chocolate is straight-up good for you or that it can cure cancer. Chocolate still has components that are bad for you.
- The chocolate I’m referring to is at least 70% dark chocolate with no additives. We’re not going to make any claims about confections or candy here.
- I am not a scientist or doctor, do not take I write here as fact. Take a look at the linked articles and studies, then decide for yourself!
Lower fat & cholesterol
Some chocolate companies are marketing lower fat and cholesterol bars. I’m guessing that means they have a lower cocoa butter content, which is the fatty portion of chocolate. Though less fat is for the most part, better for you, recent studies are showing that the particular fats in chocolate aren’t as bad as other fats. Cocoa beans contain oleaic acid, which is what’s found in olive oil, as well as stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are saturated fats, which typically increase your cholesterol level. However, stearic acid has been found to have little to no effect on cholesterol, while palmitic does increase it. Bottom line – chocolate isn’t as fatty as you might have thought, if you stick to high percentage chocolate without many (if any) additives.
And if you’re really concerned about the amount of fat in your Halloween candy, check out this article that shows you how to exercise off each kind of candy you may pick up tonight.
A study last year by the Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) shows that cocoa polyphenols can protect neurons in your brain, reducing the chances of Parkinson’s or Alzeimer’s. To learn more, read this.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, similar to tea and red wine. These act as antioxidants, which have been discussed as providing a wide range of health benefits, including reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, combating immuno-deficiency conditions, scavenging free-radicals, and preventing coronary heart disease. You can read more on PubMed.gov.
A study earlier this year shows that chocolate, when broken down by good bacteria in the stomach (probiotics, anyone?), turns into anti-inflammatory compounds, lowering the risk of coronary heart disease. Read more here and here.
Finally, there’s the health benefit that I find most convincing. Chocolate contains Theobromine (a stimulant less powerful than caffeine), Tryptophan (an amino acid that our bodies turns into seratonin, which is associated with a good mood), Phenylethylamine (an amphetamine), and Anandamide (triggering the same region of the brain as cannibis). Though these components of chocolate may be too minimal to cause any effect, my opinion is that whether or not there is a scientific link between chocolate and an improved mood, a cheery and energetic attitude is correlated with eating chocolate.
Tell me, have you ever eaten a good piece of chocolate and become more grouchy? That’s what I thought!
So, enjoy your Halloween. Eat high quality chocolate (in moderation) without the guilt. And make time for some exercise, just in case!