The previous blog on chocolate focused on how dark chocolate lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow. Several research papers show that dark chocolate also improves insulin sensitivity, and the researchers are fixated on the anti-oxidants in chocolate being the cause.12 3 Obesity in general is strongly linked to decreased insulin sensitivity, so anything that increases insulin sensitivity will help weightloss.
As can be seen in the above video, research is also showing that chocolate improves eyesight4 . The footnoted study also found it improved cognitive function – and these effects were put down again to the flavonols and resulting improved blood flow.
Occasionally a study will refer to the other compounds found in chocolate – but usually dismiss these in favour of the anti-oxidants, with a brief ponder as to whether it is the synergy of all the components of chocolate that really matters. Of course, this is very hard to prove either way and since chocolate is associated with good things happening to us, does it really matter what in the chocolate is responsible? This said, I am now going to delve into some of the other compounds found in chocolate and look at their effects on us. So, apart from the anti-oxidants, the other positive things found in chocolate include theobromine, anandamide, phenylethylamine and magnesium.
Theobromine is found in tea and kola (the kola nut originally used in coca-cola). It is in the same class of compounds as caffeine, but less potent, so is a stimulant. It acts on the body like water pills do – opening the blood vessels, stimulating the heart and is also a diuretic. So theobromine will also lower blood pressure. Another effect of theobromine is to increase arousal, excitement and general interest by increasing dopamine and glutamate in the brain, the neurotransmitters of desire and excitement. It does this by converting theobromine to methylxanthine, which is an adenosine antagonist. This adds more credence to the old stories of chocolate being an aphrodisiac (the last blog went into how, with stimulated blood flow, the effect of chocolate can be like viagra). The final good effect of theobromine is it reduces coughing and relaxes the smooth muscles, including in the lungs, and so helps alleviate asthma.
As with all effects of chocolate, the greatest concentrations of beneficial compounds is found in cocoa powder, slowly lowering in amount as less and less cocoa is used. Generally, we are looking to eat a chocolate of 70% cocoa or above and made without any milk, which blocks any antioxidant action. Also, since cocoa is a heavily sprayed crop, it is best to source organic chocolate.
This has been found in chocolate and it is a compound that docks into the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. I’m not sure I need to add more. It explains why after eating a reasonable amount of dark chocolate, we can be in an extremely good mood. Of course, if we binge on chocolate, we just feel terrible.
More drugs! Phenylethylamine’s effect on the body is similar to the effects of amphetamines. It releases an adrenalin: norepinephrine and dopamine. Fortunately it is rapidly metabolised, so we are only high for a brief interval.
Chocolate is a very high in magnesium. The 3 blogs I wrote on magnesium went into how it is the mineral of weightloss – by improving insulin sensitivity and how it is a calming mineral, helping us relax and sleep – it also has a good effect upon the heart. Admittedly, the body prefers its magnesium to come from animal products, since it likes its magnesium attached to a protein. But there is such a high amount of magnesium in cocoa, that the body will still gain much from eating some cocoa regularly. We are all very short of magnesium because it has been leached from the soil by decades of agro-chemicals being applied to the soil and these containonly nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, rather than the myriad of minerals that a natural fertilizer will have in it.
Chocolate and cravings.
I found an interesting paper looking at food cravings and aversions5. Amongst other things, the paper did look specifically at chocolate cravings, and found that these are actually satisfied by white chocolate – which is almost totally devoid of any of the above mentioned compounds in cocoa. The opinion offered was that food cravings in general are about sweet, high fat foods an, as well as white chocolate, these include cakes, pastries, Nutella and ice-cream and that eating these things releases opioids. So we are still on drugs, since opioids are the same class of compounds as opium, with a similar effect on the brain.
How to eat chocolate to get the maximum hit for the minimum blab impact.
Suck it. If we chew on chocolate, we can wolf down a whole bar and still be searching for more. As we lose control, our mood rapidly sinks into a slough of self-loathing. Now, as noted, for maximum health benefits, then a chocolate has to be at least 70% or higher cocoa. This makes it quite bitter to the inexperienced tongue. If we suck on chocolate, without it touching the teeth, it is extremely satisfying and tastes sweeter. The smaller the pieces, the better. And chocolate eaten like this is much nicer. Of course, individual experimentation is always fun.
The other way to take in cocoa is by drinking it. Now we get the maximum health benefits from chocolate. It is pointless adding cocoa powder to hot milk, since milk negates the anti-oxidant qualities. But people have suggested adding it to coconut milk, which brings them out in ecstasies at the memory. Of course, it can also be added to hot water with a little honey or stevia added for sweetness.
So there we have it: dark chocolate is linked to lowering blood pressure, increasing insulin sensitivity, thereby helping weightloss, improving blood flow, so improving eyesight, brain and genital function. Some of the compounds in chocolate will help us cheer up and relax a bit, always a good thing. Quite surprising that something associated with naughtiness turns out to be not only naughty, but nice too.
- Grassi D, Lippe C et al. Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. Am J Clin Nutr. March 2005 vol 81 no 3 611-614 [↩]
- Grassi D, Desideri G et al. Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate. J Nutr Sept 1. 2008 vol 138 no 9 [↩]
- Grassi D, Necozione S. Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension 2005;46:398-405 [↩]
- Field DT, Williams CM, Butler L. Consumption of cocoa flavonols results in an acute improvement in visual and cognitive functions. Physiology and behaviour (2011) Vol 103; issue 3-4 pub Elsevier, p255-260 [↩]
- Yanovski S. Sugar and fat: cravings and aversions. J Nutr March 1 2003 vol 133 no 3, 8353-8375 [↩]