What’s in Your Easter Basket?
“My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M’s and a chocolate cake. I feel better already.”
Humor columnist Dave Barry penned that wise and thought-provoking statement. I tried to achieve the same inner peace recently with two chocolate ice cream sandwiches and a “few” Oreo cookies.
And, amazingly, it worked!
I felt the calm that comes with a full tummy, gratified and extremely peaceful… peaceful enough to take a nap even! I believe it is chocolate’s multiple healthy influences that left me devoid of that lingering guilt feeling of overeating.
Consequently, my grass-filled Easter basket is filled with heart-healthy dark chocolate! And, if you are one of my observant huckleberry friends, you will see that the Easter bunny gave me an extra special treat from Montana – a chocolate bar with huckleberries! How great is that!?
Chocolate has proven to be heart healthy, but it has the nutritional value when you go on the “dark side.” Although chocolate is hardly thought of as a nutritious food, it contains a compound known as flavonoids that have positive health benefits. Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans that are fermented, roasted and ground into a powder to achieve a rich chocolate that contains flavanols. Flavanols are powerful antioxidants that safeguard your heart.
Dark chocolate should be your first choice as they possess a higher percentage of cocoa solids — from 35 to 99 percent – and an increased amount of those health-boosting Flavanols than lighter chocolates.
Chocolate manufacturers list the percentage of cocoa solids on the label. Choose chocolate treats with at least 35 percent cocoa or cocoa solids. Dark chocolate in the U.S. is often called sweet or semi-sweet chocolate and is required to contain at least 35 percent cocoa solids. Fine dark chocolate made in Europe is required to contain at least 43 percent cocoa solids.
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC), confirmed: “Basic science has demonstrated quite convincingly that dark chocolate particularly, with a cocoa content of at least 70%, reduces oxidative stress and improves vascular and platelet function.
Flavanols are thought to be responsible for the formation of nitric oxide in our body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessel walls to relax and open wider, thereby reducing blood pressure. (Nitric oxide is the same compound produced by the angina treatment procedure known as enhanced external counterpulsation.) The flavanols of chocolate lower all the renowned heart disease risk factors – cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation.
Chocolate has also been shown to improve your memory and brain function. A research study, conducted by Dr. Farzaneh Sorond, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was published in the journal Neurology and illustrated an increase of 30 percent in memory and problem solving among the participants. Additionally, chocolate contains compounds that encourage your brain to release endorphins – the “feel good” hormone. You naturally become happier!
The health benefits continue. In an article entitled “Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health” in the journal Circulation, it states that flavonoids in dark chocolate reduce insulin resistance and assists in regaining the ability to use your body’s insulin efficiently. Dark chocolate also has a low glycemic index, meaning it won’t cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels.
A current study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in April of 2014 publicized that an antioxidant in cocoa can prevent mice from gaining weight and that it also lowered their blood sugar levels. Additionally, evidence exists that an antioxidant in cocoa can prevent weight gain and assist in lowering blood sugar levels.
Additionally, antioxidants in dark chocolate help free your body of free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to cells. Free radicals are associated with the aging process and causing cancer, so partaking in antioxidant rich foods like dark chocolate can protect you from many types of cancer and slow the signs of aging.
In the book “The Healing Powers of Chocolate” by Cal Orey, you will find a list of the plentiful vitamin and minerals in dark chocolate. These include potassium, copper, magnesium, and iron. It also contains manganese and zinc for the promotion of cell growth, tissue repair and the absorption of nutrients. Dark chocolate contains the B complex vitamins, required for the release of energy and creating the body’s building blocks. It also contains vitamin D and E.
How much chocolate should we eat?
Researchers in Germany recently stated in the European Heart Journal that “Eating just one square of chocolate a day can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke by 39 percent.” They further concluded that this amount of chocolate leads to lower blood pressure as well.
As with most good things in life, the secret is moderation! The renowned Dr. Oz recently answered some important questions on the specifics of dark chocolate consumption. Obviously, you need not have a full bar of chocolate every day. That could have overwhelming consequences! Dr. Oz stated “The flavonoids in dark chocolate are so powerful that a daily piece the size of a Hershey’s Kiss can lower your blood pressure. You should limit yourself to 7 ounces a week of dark chocolate because of its high fat and sugar content. About one ounce a day is the most you should indulge in.”
Enjoy your heart healthy Easter chocolate. Make it part of your heart healthy diet. Then remember to include a variety of other foods including fruit; vegetables, nuts and fish, as well as getting out and being active for at least 30 minutes a day.
Michael Levine, a nutrition researcher, sums it all up: “Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world’s perfect food.”
Then again, most people already knew that.
We won’t need any bright-colored plastic eggs filled with jellybeans or marshmallow peeps. (Well, maybe I could use a few of those yellow peeps – especially if they are pre-opened to dry to that perfect chewy crispiness!)
Did the Easter bunny visit at your house?
What kind of treats did he leave you?