With the holiday season approaching and a focus on eating sweets, I thought to take a positive spin and talk about the health benefits of chocolate. This does not mean the health benefits of chocolate layer cake or chocolate fudge brownies, much to the dismay of some of us, although an occasional such treat is not ruled out. The chocolate that I am talking about is high quality semi-sweet chocolate with at least a 70% cacao level and even better eighty percent. A small piece of chocolate or two during the day can satisfy a sweet craving without going overboard and can help when you need to focus on a task rather than drinking coffee.
Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno in their book, The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, point out the many research-based benefits of chocolate. For one thing, the saturated fats in chocolate are not known to elevate cholesterol levels unlike the saturated fats in meat and dairy. There actually are small amounts of plant sterols in cocoa butter that inhibit the absorption of cholesterol.
Another health benefit is that chocolate contains flavonoids, which protects against damage to cholesterol and our artery linings. Flavonoids, in fact, prevent blood platelets from clumping together and reduce the risk of blood clots. Murray and Pizzorno also point out that chocolate is high in an amino acid, arginine, which is used to produce nitric oxide, and helps to dilate of our blood vessels to maintain healthy blood flow.
Unlike high quality semi-sweet chocolate, the typical candies on the grocery and candy store shelves often contain hydrogenated fats and refined flour, which over time can compromise our health. Refined flour itself is stripped of nutrients. Many of the candies are loaded with sugar and some contain food colorings, which also are deleting in terms of nourishment.
Back to the holiday season, you can choose to be the guest who brings some high quality dark chocolates and nibble on those rather than some of the richer sweets. Even if you choose to eat some of the richer desserts, you will like not consume them in excess as long as you are eating a healthy, mostly whole foods diet most of the time.
An eighty-twenty rule that allows for a healthy diet eighty percent of the time and indulgence twenty percent of the time can make the holiday season less dread-filled and truly joyous in terms of health. It also can minimize some of the binge-eating associated with the natural stresses that are part of the holiday season.
Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!!!