Being an adult doesn't mean you're too old to enjoy Easter.
I, for one, still make a point of visiting Mom over Easter weekend. I'm certain, you see, that I'll wake up to a basket filled with chocolate eggs on Easter Monday.
I've always felt that Easter is the one weekend of the year when it's okay to go on a chocolate binge. So, to justify the indulgence that no doubt lies ahead, I went in search of good reasons why it's okay to throw all caution to the wind and enjoy every chocolate treat that comes my way:
A boon to the heart
Dark-chocolate eggs are the way to go. According to research, this type of chocolate contains more cocoa, which is rich in flavonoids – antioxidants believed to improve heart health.
Cocoa seems to exert its positive effect on the heart mainly in three ways: firstly, by keeping the layer of cells that lines the heart and blood vessels healthy; secondly, by lowering blood pressure; and thirdly, by modulating blood-platelet function in a similar way asprin does.
In one study, participants with hypertension experienced a significant drop in blood pressure after seven days of eating flavonoid-rich chocolate every day compared with seven days of eating flavanoid-poor chocolate. Another study revealed that 90g of dark chocolate per day over several weeks helped lower hypertensive participants' blood pressure by an average of 10%.
Other studies have compared the effects of flavonoid-rich cocoa and chocolate on blood-platelet reactivity to that of 81mg aspirin, and found that the positive effects were more or less similar.
Unfortunately, however, milk chocolate and white chocolate didn't deliver the same benefits.
At this stage we know the most about dark chocolate's positive effect on the heart, but researchers are also investigating other possible benefits. Here are some interesting findings:
A role in beating chronic fatigue.
Adults who ate 45g of dark chocolate containing 85% cocoa every day for eight weeks as part of a study on chocolate and chronic fatigue syndrome reported feeling less fatigued after eating chocolate. It's believed that the sweet treat enhances the action of neurotransmitters such as serotonin in the brain, which might explain the positive effect.
A weapon against type 2 diabetes.
Researchers found that 90g of dark chocolate per day over several weeks improved the body's sensitivity to insulin. This has clear benefits for people who are insulin resistant or diabetic. On the other hand, 90g of chocolate can lead to weight gain, and excess weight can in itself be a risk factor for diabetes.
A good mood food.
Chocolate contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is used by the brain to produce mood-enhancing serotonin. In fact, the BBC reports that high levels of the amino acid can produce feelings of elation, and even ecstasy. Research also shows that another chemical in chocolate, called phenylethylamine, stimulates the brain's pleasure centres. But as chocolate contains only small quantities of these chemicals, researchers aren't certain whether it has a significant effect.
Not an everyday thing
Well, these findings are good enough for me.
Sadly, I still have to watch my chocolate intake during the rest of the year. At about 19g of fat per 100g, more than 10g of chocolate per day (that's only about two blocks) isn't great for the waistline.
Some researchers also found that chocolate's beneficial effects only become significant at levels of about 90g per day. This translates to almost a full slab of chocolate. So, sadly, until the scientists have found a way to get the benefits without the bulge, I'll just have to pull my sweet tooth until next year's Easter weekend.
Why Chocolate Makes Us Feel Good (17 November 2004), BBC.co.uk; HealthDay.com
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