3 min 49 on the good things in chocolate. Dr Carl Keen wryly comments that compliance during studies on chocolate is good. I can’t think why, especially since his closing comment is that the antioxidants in chocolate can be viewed as a natural viagra.
Let us get one thing quite clear, not all chocolate is created equal and just snarfing down a block of Cadbury’s milk chocolate will have negligible health benefits and an appalling effect on the waistline. In this blog, I will go into why chocolate is good for your heart – and your love life; how to eat it for best effect and how to spot a good one.
As Dr Keen says, the Mayans prized chocolate for its ability to help facilitate conception and ease childbirth, give relief to indigestion and cure consumption. They claimed it cleaned the teeth and preserved from all infectious diseases. 500 years ago, it was used to calm insomnia, relieve heart palpitations and improve blood flow.
How can all this be true? Well, cocoa is a good source of antioxidants, and it improves mood by containing magnesium and it triggers the release of endorphins by containing phenylethylamine.
Chocolate and your heart.
There are an increasing number of studies showing that chocolate is good for heart health.123. Of course, it is excellent for our love life too, both as acting as viagra and having potential wooing power. How it does these things is by lowering blood pressure. It does this, as far as I can tell, by 2 mechanisms. Firstly it works like an ACE inhibitor drug, and secondly by raising nitric oxide levels in the blood. Now the latter was covered in the blog about why beetroot juice is good for you; raising nitric oxide in the blood reduces inflammation and helps the blood to flow freely. ACE inhibitors: ACE is short for angiotensin converting enzyme. We need angiotensin to properly react to short term stress; it makes the blood vessels constrict and drives up blood pressure. In the short term sprint to safety, this is a jolly good thing; if we suffer an injury, we want our blood vessels to constrict in the immediate aftermath. But long term, as a result of prolonged stress from whatever cause, constricted blood vessels and high blood pressure lead to heart health problems. So angiotensin converting enzyme converts angiotensin I to angiotensin II and our blood pressure rises. Man has made drugs that block the action of this enzyme, the ACE inhibitors, so blood pressure drops and blood flows more easily. However, there is the small matter of side effects; looking on the BUPA website, I found 11, including reduction in kidney function, headache, dizziness, diarrhoea or constipation. I then looked on Wikipedia and found 17 related to the ACE inhibitor drug, Lisinopril, including serious (possibly fatal) liver problems, fainting and blackouts, anaphylaxsis and so on. Not one of these is conducive to a good love life, apart from anything else. Of course, the worst side effect of loads of chocolate is fatness.
The good actions of chocolate on us partly explain why chocolate is so good for getting up a head of steam – it improves blood flow; after all it hasn’t got a bone in it, so to get firm and ready for action needs a good supply of blood to the essential organ. Also, when highly stressed so angiotensin II is being produced, the last thing on our mind is a bit of procreation. Therefore sucking on a couple of squares of Green and Black’s dark organic reduces stress and thereby helps increase libido.
It seems scientists aren’t quite sure why chocolate is so good for heart health. But the antioxidants in it seem to be most suspected. And this is why the chocolate should be 70% cocoa or higher. Looking in Carlsen’s ‘The total antioxidant content of more than 3,100 foods used worldwide’4 she records that in chocolate with cocoa contents of 24 – 30%, there is an average of 1.8 mmol per 100g; with 40-56% there is 7.2 mmol per 100g and with 70-99% there is 10.9 mmol per 100g. These are average numbers, so chocolates do vary in antioxidant quantity. However, the study mentioned in footnote 3 found that eating milk chocolate or eating dark chocolate with a glass of milk, negated the antioxidants. It is thought that this is because milk binds to the antioxidants and removes them from the body – and this will happen to any antioxidants taken in with milk, including those in tea and coffee. So not only does dark chocolate contain more antioxidants, the absence of milk means they get to do us good. A final note about the best sort of chocolate – dark and organic. Cocoa beans are a heavily sprayed crop, so for the long term health of both us and the farmers, organic is best.
For some, dark chocolate is a bit bitter. To get round this, dissolve small pieces on the roof of the mouth. Gives a much better ‘hit’, a little goes a long way and it tastes sweeter. Oh, chocolate and wooing. Well most women are very fond of chocolate – see later blogs on the subject. If given this little tip about sucking the chocolate instead of eating it, it will be less of a threat to bottom size, and you never know your luck. For us all, chocolate raises endorphins, so we feel well. The magnesium in it is relaxing. Lets face it, pointless going a-wooing if either party is in a bad mood. Bring on the plain dark stuff……
- Persson I, Persson K et al. Effects of cocoa extract and dark chocolate on angiotensin-converting enzyme and nitric oxide in human endothelial cells and healthy volunteers. Journal of cardiovascular pharmacology 2011. 57(1),44-50 Abstr [↩]
- Grassi D. Blood pressure and cardiovascular risk; what about cocoa and chocolate? Archive of biochem and biophysiol 2010. 501(1), 112 – 115 Abst [↩]
- Serafini M, Bugianesi R, et al. Plasma antioxidants from chocolate. Nature 424, 1013 (28th Aug 2003 [↩]
- Carlsen M H, The total antioxidant content of more than 3,100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used world wide. Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:3 [↩]