My husband knows me so well (as one would expect, given that we’re high school sweethearts). For Christmas, he stashed four different kinds of exotically-flavored chocolate bars in my stocking. I am nearing the end of them all – savoring every last square of the crème brulee-flavored treat without a thought to sugar or caloric content. (Some happiness-inducing activities need to be enjoyed simply for what they are, after all.)
I know for a fact that I got my sweet tooth from my paternal grandmother. She always had a sweet treat in her pocketbook, typically rolls of Lifesavers or Certs. (Remember those?) My parents would always present her with the same brand of chocolate-covered cherries each Christmas – a gift she would gladly share with me whenever we celebrated the holidays together. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven while traveling through Europe in college nearly 20 years ago. Parisian chocolates were tres deliceux, but couldn’t hold a candle to the confections I encountered amidst the cobblestoned streets of Brugges, Belgium – a city also known for beer and lace.
Today, chocolates come in every shape, size and flavor imaginable. And, as in vogue as certain concoctions might be, they still carry the stigma of being anathema to your physical health and wellness. (Every woman knows they’re the preferred “pill” to pop when dealing with stress.) I’m here to tell you that is no longer the case, and about the health benefits of chocolate – particularly dark chocolate. The cocoa bean, from which most chocolates derive their flavor, is rich in flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that help your body’s cells in a number of ways. (Among foods high in flavonoids, a chocolate bar has five times the amount as an apple!) These properties can also help lower blood pressure and significantly reduce a woman’s risk of heart attack and stroke. A study conducted several years ago in Germany found that consuming just one square of small dark chocolate a day helped increase these benefits.
Other studies have found that women who ate chocolate daily during pregnancy reported being able to better handle stress once the baby arrived than their non-chocolate-imbibing counterparts – thus confirming my mental health benefits angle! Scientifically speaking, the stress-reducing benefits of dark chocolate have been well documented. Study participants reported a significant reduction in stress hormone levels after eating an ounce-and-a-half of dark chocolate once a day for two weeks. Among other health benefits, dark chocolate has even been linked to sunscreen-like skin properties, higher intelligence, and cough relief.
While dark chocolate may not be a complete panacea, you shouldn’t relegate it to the bad-for-you bin. Practice portion control and then feel free to indulge on a semi-regular basis. Your heart, lungs, skin, and stress levels will thank you!