More and more people are making a point to add chocolate to their diet. It doesn’t sound like a healthy snack but a couple pieces of chocolate a day can greatly impact your brain. I really enjoy a couple of dark chocolate chips in the afternoon before I head off to work. For some reason, there is still a stigma surrounding it as a healthy snack but not all chocolate is created equal!
The type and quality does matter but cocoa is responsible for a slew of shocking brain benefits so don’t write it off as just a once in a while indulgence just yet. Chocolate helps produce mood lifting chemicals to get your day started off on the right foot. It can also help with concentration and keep you more focused throughout the day. Furthermore, it’s not just the delicious taste that makes you feel good. Studies show that some nutrients in cocoa help with stress and anxiety. There are also positive physiological effects chocolate has on our blood vessels on neurons. It helps protect you from free radicals and is actually a probiotic.
Lifting Your Mood
Next time you’re feeling down, try grabbing a bite of some high-quality dark chocolate to lift your spirits. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter in your brain, is responsible for mood stabilization. Having too little serotonin could drastically take your brain from happy to depressed. Another side effect of low serotonin is anxiety, but chocolate may be able to help. There are significant amounts of tryptophan in dark chocolate which is an amino acid that helps create serotonin. Chocolate also contains an alkaloid called theobromine which raises serotonin levels and has relaxing benefits. The combination of higher serotonin and a more relaxed feeling could definitely benefit your mood.
Chocolate contains caffeine which is a psychoactive drug known for its stimulating properties but also has antidepressant effects. Caffeine interacts with the central nervous system. Your concentration is boosted because your blood circulation and heart rate will increase*. Completing a task at work or going for a run may seem more manageable with this boost* of caffeine that occurs naturally in chocolate. The increased productivity could also ultimately lead to a better overall mood because of what you are able to accomplish.
Alleviating Stress and Anxiety
Do you have severe stress or anxiety? Low magnesium levels may be playing a part in that. Magnesium helps to limit the number of stress hormones entering your brain like a filter. Dr. Carolyn Dean, the author of The Magnesium Miracle, has found magnesium deficiency to be a major contributor to anxiety and panic attacks. There are high amounts of magnesium in chocolate and it has also been shown that when people crave chocolate it may be their body telling them they have a magnesium deficiency.
What Flavanols are Doing?
Flavanols are the naturally occurring plant-based nutrients found in cocoa and they have been reported as the cause for many beneficial effects on the mind and body. Some of the effects include increased cerebral blood flow, anti-inflammatory properties and increasing* the function of blood vessels. Another positive impact of these flavanols on the brain its impact on neuron regeneration and repair which helps with long term memory. They also aid the neurons in your brain with fueling up, getting oxygenated and ridding of waste.
Protecting Against Free Radicals
Your brain uses a large percentage of the oxygen you take in, which makes it very susceptible to damage from free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen cells that have not attached to anything in which case they attack your cells. If you leave a slice of fruit out and you notice it turns a brown color that is a better example of free radicals attacking. So how does chocolate help? Its super high in antioxidants, even higher in them than a lot of well-known super foods. What antioxidants do is neutralize free radical damage and help prevent premature brain cell aging.
Probiotics and Your Brain
Chocolate is a probiotic, which means it increases* the amount of good bacteria in your body. Chocolate helps create the good bacteria while also keeping the amount of bad bacteria in check. With the proper balance of bacteria in your body, your digestive system breaks down food properly and ultimately sends the nutrients to your brain. Good bacteria also helps your body absorb nutrients like the magnesium mentioned earlier.
All these benefits would get anyone excited to grab some chocolate, but what kind has all these brain boosting effects? Between dark, milk and white chocolate it’s become common knowledge that dark chocolate is the most beneficial. The higher the cocoa content, the more of these brain advantages you get. Milk chocolate is only required to contain 10% cocoa and is high in fat and sugar so it’s not a great choice as a regular addition to your diet. White chocolate doesn’t even contain cocoa but actually cocoa butter so it is delicious, but if you’re looking for health benefits it’s going to fall short. Dark chocolate is the way to go and the higher the cocoa percentage, the better.
It’s important to remember that with all these great benefits for your brain, eating an unbalanced diet high in chocolate will do more harm than good. Like any other food, it’s imperative for it to be a part of a balanced and healthy diet. In my experience keeping a small bag of 74%, cocoa chocolate chips is a great snack to have around the house or bring on the go with me. The richness of dark chocolate leaves me only wanting a couple bites before I’m satisfied. Chocolate is definitely becoming more of a staple in healthy eater’s diets and for good reason as long as you do it right!
Some awesome and healthy chocolate options:
- Chocolate covered almonds
- Adding chocolate chips to your trail mix
- Chocolate covered fresh fruits
- Throwing chocolate in your smoothie
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