At this time of year, it’s common to turn our attention to chocolate! So the question is – is chocolate really that good for me?

Chocolate is sourced from the cacao bean and is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, good fats and fibre. Research has shown it to contain over 300 naturally occurring nutritional and chemical compounds! It is these compounds responsible for most of the benefits of chocolate.

“Of these compounds, some of the most beneficial properties come from cacao’s antioxidants. Health benefits include reduced cell damage, healthy ageing, reduced cardiovascular risk and healthy cholesterol management.”

Chocolate is rich in minerals including magnesium and zinc, shown to assist in healthy stress management, blood pressure support and blood sugar control.

Cacao is also rich in amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Tryptophan is a precursor to the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin. Tyrosine is needed for healthy thyroid function and is a precursor to dopamine which assists concentration, mental clarity and motivation. Arginine is responsible for nitric oxide production and assists in improving blood flow and blood pressure management.

Chocolate is one of the few dietary sources of anandamide, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter called the “bliss molecule.” Anandamide binds to the same receptors as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive component in marijuana. It also contains phenylethylamine, a psychoactive compound dubbed the “love drug.” It purportedly gives you a buzz similar to being in love. Cacao encourages the production of feel-good endorphins, which bind to opiate receptors causing feelings of euphoria. There is a little caffeine in chocolate — enough to boost memory, mood, and concentration — but not enough to make most people feel wired.

Chocolate doesn’t just make you feel happier, it positively impacts brain health and function too.
It’s high in neuroprotective flavonoids, which promote brain plasticity and help brain cells live longer, reduce the risk of dementia and reduce cognitive decline.

There are a number of health benefits particularly worth noting for men. Cacao has been shown to positively influence testosterone levels (primarily by reducing the stress hormone cortisol) and assists in managing erectile function through enhanced blood flow.

For women, the nutrients in chocolate may assist in managing premenstrual syndrome (PMS) by reducing sugar cravings, menstrual cramping and supporting healthy moods. In menopausal women, it supports healthy moods and reduces cardiovascular risk.

But before you go out and partake of this wonderful food it is important to remember that the higher the cacao content, such as in dark chocolate, the greater the health benefits. Darker chocolates typically also contain less sugar. And as the saying goes, always read the label and consume responsibly!