by Rozie Beverly
I must admit, I am a dark chocoholic who enjoys getting chocolate wasted. After running a few miles one morning, I enjoyed my hot cocoa paradise as I watched the clouds pass by. As I took my last sip of the drink, a fascinating question came to me, What are the effects of dark chocolate on the human body; “a guilty pleasure or a fantastic remedy”(Simon)
As a result of a bad day, for a reward, or to encourage romance, one way or another we eat chocolate to help up feel better. It’s inevitable that some of us feel guilty when we indulge on chocolate, but should we be feeling guilty about pleasuring our mind and body? Fortunately, I am not the only person who is curious about the affects of dark chocolate on our body. In 2009, Harvey B. Simon, an editor for the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, composed an article about research from Harvard University that evaluated foods with high flavonoid levels; one of many foods on the list was the cocoa bean. “The cocoa bean is devilishly complex, containing more than 400 chemicals. Many of them can effect human biology”(Simon). Additionally, Simon mentions that there is specific chemical inside of the cocoa bean that is an antioxidant called a flavonoid. “Flavonoids, also known as antioxidants, are important chemicals that are considered to be the warriors in our body that protect many of the body’s tissues and organs from damage by free radicals”(Simon).
What are free radicals and how would our bodies react to them? Vijaya Chavan Lobo from India wrote an extensive research article on the relationship between free radicals and stress called Free radicals, antioxidants, and functional foods: Impact on human health. In her article, she mentions key components to our understanding of antioxidants on our bodies. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health
Free radicals reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species are generated by our body by various endogenous systems, exposure to different physiochemical conditions or pathological states. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function. If free radicals overwhelm the body's ability to regulate them, a condition known as oxidative stress ensues. Free radicals thus adversely alter lipids, proteins, and DNA and trigger a number of human diseases. Hence application of external source of antioxidants can assist in coping this oxidative stress (Lobo).
In other words, a healthy balance of free radicals and antioxidants on the human body is necessary for our physiological function. On the other hand, Lobo mentions that when excess free radicals are not counteracted by antioxidants, this excess causes atrocious harm to our bodies.
Since free radicals are maintained and balanced by antioxidants and cocoa beans contain the flavonoid antioxidants, does this mean that we can fill our days with guilt free indulges in chocolate?
Yes, in moderation that is. This answer resides in the article Chocolate’s Not So Dark Secret by Benjamin A. Tipton, which parallels the research aforementioned in the Harvard study.
Recent research on dark chocolate has shown numerous health benefits such as powerful antioxidant effects, lower blood pressure, decreased LDL oxidation and total cholesterol, improved cognitive function in the elderly, and improved mood. Furthermore, dark chocolate has been shown to enhance exercise performance by improving blood glucose maintenance, increasing plasma free fatty acids, enhancing endothelial function, and attenuating blood pressure increases during exercise. These benefits mark dark chocolate an excellent food to add to the diet whether a person is active or not (Tipton).
In addition to dark chocolate’s incredible health benefits, if you exercise on a regular basis, will dark chocolate make a great addition to your daily meals?
Since I’m a runner, I’m always inventing and experimenting new ways to enhance my running experience; from new stretching poses to new nutrient jam-packed foods. Tipton stresses the importance of how cardiovascular disease in the leading cause of death in the United States and it’s relation to stress on the body. Not only is Tipton stressing the physiological damage of stress on our bodies, but he creatively ties in dark chocolate and how it can be used to counter the free radical damage that overload our bodies.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and oxidative stress has been shown to initiate cardiovascular disease. Research on dark chocolate consumption before exercise has shown decreased blood markers of oxidative stress versus chocolate-free controls, supporting the antioxidant claims made about dark chocolate. Other research has shown that dark chocolate increases endothelial function which helps redirect needed blood flow to working muscles during exercise possibly enhancing recovery and performance (Tipton).
Which will benefit you more, consuming dark chocolate pre or post workout?
As aforementioned, I am always experimenting on new ways to enhance my body function during a run. I decided to continue my analysis on dark chocolate, and came across a fascinating exert at the end of Tipton’s article. After intertwining dark chocolate with his article, Tipton then examines research articles to inquire on whether or not it is optimal to our bodies to eat dark chocolate pre or post workout; his findings are fascinating. The studies that he examined showed that “consuming dark chocolate one to two hours before exercise had increased pre-exercise insulin levels, which lead to better maintenance of blood glucose during exercise”(Tipton). Furthermore, Tipton continued to elaborate on the meaning of better maintenance of blood glucose levels down to the molecular level. “This finding is supported by increased plasma free fatty acids in the plasma, which can be broken down for energy during exercise. Thus, eating dark chocolate may improve one’s cardiovascular health as well as be beneficial to athletes and exercising populations” (Tipton).
Furthermore, Tipton utters the value of dark chocolate being a fantastic remedy for our bodies. The next time that you indulge in dark chocolate, I hope this article will be a friendly reminder to you that dark chocolate isn’t a “guilty pleasure, but a fantastic remedy that should be incorporated into a healthy diet by eating one to two ounces a day by both the active and sedentary individual”(Tipton). On that note, the next time that you have a dark chocolate indulge enjoy the antioxidants flowing through your body!
Hot Cocoa Paradise Drink
1. 1 bag of cocoa beans and grind them into powder or you can buy the cocoa powder at Whole Foods in the bulk section.
2. Your choice of milk.
3. Raw Honey (or whichever you prefer)
4. Organic Cinnamon
5. 2 Tb of Organic Cocoa Powder
6. 1 ½ cup of Organic Milk
7. 1/4 Tb of Raw Honey
8. 1Tsp of Cinnamon
I have a specific procedure that I do when making this hot cocoa. First, I heat my milk for a minute in the microwave. Then, I add in and mix the cocoa powder, honey, and cinnamon. I place the cup back into the microwave for another minute and the hot chocolate comes out with a nice chocolate layer on top of the milk! I sprinkle a few cocoa nibs on top and enjoy this refreshment that send warmth to your soul.
Tipton, Benjamin A. "Chocolate's Not So Dark Secret." Huffinesinstitute.org. Texas A&M University, 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.
Simon, Harvey B. “Chocolate And Your Health: Guilty Pleasure Or Terrific Treat? (Cover Story).” Harvard Men’s Health Watch 13.7 (2009): 1-4.Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 March 2014.
Lobo, V., A. Patil, A. Phatak, and N. Chandra. "Abstract." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Dec. 2005. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
Free Radicles: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911/
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