If you’re craving something sweet, indulging in some dark chocolate may be satisfying and good for you! Not only has dark chocolate been found to be full of mood-enhancing chemicals, a new study reports that chocolate could help ward off preeclampsia, a condition during pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine.
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is rich in a chemical called theobromine, which stimulates the heart, relaxes smooth muscle and dilates blood vessels, and has been used to treat chest pain, high blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries, Dr. Elizabeth W. Triche of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and colleagues write.
The study finds that women eating five or more servings of chocolate each week during the first trimester were at 19 percent lower risk than those who ate chocolate less than once a week. Good news for the chocoholics!
According to The Current Online, “Dark chocolate has a stronger, more intense chocolate flavor and a hint of bitterness that not everyone prefers. Ironically, the bitterness is associated with some good things.”
Pregnant or not, here are some purported benefits of dark chocolate:
- Chocolate releases endorphins, hormone-like natural substances that produce a feeling of pleasure.
- Chocolate contains caffeine and antioxidants, which are found to produce a feeling of relaxation (compared to coffee, which also has caffeine and antioxidants, but creates tension.) The lower levels of caffeine improves alertness, and the mild stimulate theobromine relaxes the smooth muscles of the lungs.
- Chocolate contains magnesium and iron, which may explain why women, who need more of these nutrients, crave chocolate.
- Chocolate contains tryptophan, which is one of the building blocks that the body uses to make serotonin. Serotonin is a neurochemical associated with pleasure.
- Chocolate contains two other neurotransmitters. Phenylethylamine stimulates the body’s pleasure centers. Anandaminde targets the same brain structures as the active ingredient in marijuana, THC. These two substances inhibit the breakdown of anandamide, which prolongs its pleasurable effect.
- Chocolate contains polyphenols, chemicals that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants have been associated with cell-protection, anti-aging and other health benefits. They gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments
- Dark chocolate lowers high blood pressure (But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things.) This is due to compounds called plant phenols– in this case cocoa phenols.
Just remember that these benefits come with dark chocolate only… the darker the better!