Part 1 of a 2-Part Series
By Bera Dordoni, N.D.
Okay, everyone, it’s time to get up close and personal and serious about . . . shhhhhh . . . chocolate.
When I was a kid I developed the chocolate-junkie habit early. I guess it was probably a sugar habit, but the addition of chocolate to the mix was what I loved. Through the years, as I’ve supposedly matured, I realized that chocolate was very addicting to me, and I did my best to avoid it as long as possible. When I’d indulge myself and purchase a chocolate bar, I’d soon remember that while I loved the taste, I hated the aftereffects; my chocolate consumption was always accompanied by a headache and usually by a burst of acne. Mom always knew when I’d junked out.
Even if we’re zit-faced, overweight, or diabetic, most of us, whether kids or adults, turn to chocolate for a feel-good fix: for comfort, for security, for the simple love of chocolate. I was certainly no exception. My favorite candy bars were coconut and almonds, or caramel-covered peanut concoctions, but whatever I chose to stuff in my mouth, it always had a good amount of chocolate – mostly milk chocolate. I was truly addicted, and I suffered the consequences of zits, sugar highs followed by the sugar crashes, and a racing heart.
How could anything so luscious not be good for me? It just wasn’t fair!
Well, guess what! Not only is chocolate not bad for us, it can actually be one of the most beneficial things we can eat.
There is a God.
I knew even if I had to twist the logic around in order to justify incorporating chocolate into my diet as a good thing, I’d do it, but I didn’t have to! I mean the evidence was there all along!
Okay, go ahead and laugh. Say, “Oh my, this crazy lady has finally gone over the edge. After all these years of telling us how terrible sugar is for our bodies, she’s trying to claim chocolate is actually good for us.”
Yeah. You bet I am. Because it is. Well, wait a minute – not all chocolate. Just the right chocolate. You knew there was a catch, right? Because not all chocolate is equal, not all chocolate is good for us. But the right chocolate is fantastic for us!
That’s right: Fantastic. Benefits galore for our mind, body, and spirit. The most wonderful thing in the world, ’cause it’s chocolate!
So let’s talk chocolate.
A huge amount of credible scientific evidence – phytochemical evidence – shows that chocolate actually has the highest rated Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of any substance. What does that mean? Only that chocolate is the most potent antioxidant in the world.
So why has it always gotten such a bum rap for causing so many health problems?
First, let’s look at what antioxidants are and why we need them. Think about when metal is exposed to water and air. It rusts, right? That’s called oxidization. Well, the same thing happens when our bodies are exposed to toxins and stress. Our cells oxidize, resulting in damaged cells and poor health. Even the calmest of us cannot avoid the environmental stresses that accost us from everywhere we turn: EMF pollution (cell phones and their towers, smart meters, all personal electronics we expose our bodies to daily, etc.), foods that deplete oxygen and create inflammation or other cellular abnormalities, emotional distress from our work, home life – or lack of decent chocolate (one of my biggest stressors!).
Oxidation can lead to cataracts, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, even cancer. It’s a “root cause” of aging, dementia and, some think, even Alzheimer’s.
To get and stay healthy, we need to stop our internal oxidation with, yes, antioxidants. (Can you hear the “duh”?) Anything that stops the oxidation process – in other words, any “anti-oxidant” – is good for the body. And if one ever needed proof that God loves us, it’s right there in the cocoa tree, from which we get cocoa, from which we get chocolate, from which we get the highest amount of antioxidants of any substance yet known to man.
Can I get an “Amen”?
Chocolate for the Heart
I could just say, “Hey, trust me, it’s good for the heart,” but since we’re talking about my favorite food, chocolate, let me give you some reasons why. The bad cholesterol we hear about all the time – LDL cholesterol – leads to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The flavonoids catechin and epicatechin, the main antioxidants in chocolate, lower the oxidation rate of LDL cholesterol and help reduce platelet clotting that can contribute to heart disease.
Prof. Norman Hollenberg, MD of Harvard University Medical School states on record that the epicatechin in chocolate is so important for our heath it should be classified as a vitamin. Its health benefits, he says, could rival penicillin and anesthesia (Society of Chemistry and Industry, March 2007).
Hollenberg studied the Kuna Indians living on the San Blas Islands off the Panama coast, who drink an average of 40 cups of cocoa every week. He found they have 90% less heart failure, stroke, diabetes, and cancer than the average found in the United States.
If these observations predict the future, then we can say they are among the most important observations in the history of medicine. We all agree that penicillin and anesthesia are enormously important, but if epicatechin could potentially get rid of 4 of the 5 most common diseases in the Western world, how important does that make epicatechin? I would say very important!
Antioxidants called polyphenols are the protective chemicals found in plant foods like green tea and red wine. But . . . you guessed it . . . chocolate’s polyphenols are just as protective, if not more so, than the antioxidants found in red wine that are considered so protective against heart disease. (Yea for chocolate! Chocolate is good! Yea for chocolate! Chocolate is good!)
Studies at UC Davis and Penn State University showed that eating a small bar of dark chocolate every day – yeah, every day – can reduce mild hypertension and lower blood pressure. Researcher Carl Keen claims that dark chocolate thins the blood and has the same anti-clotting benefits as aspirin when taken on a daily basis and may be associated with improved cardiovascular health. (Note: this is NOT a giant bar!)
And Then There’s Chocolate for Mood Enhancement
But wait – as they say in the Ginsu knife commercials – there’s more! Chocolate has a cousin to caffeine known as theobromine, much weaker than caffeine, but still a stimulant and diuretic. It can relax the lungs and help in mild cases of asthma. Theobromine can also boost our mood, while chocolate’s phenethylamine triggers the release of pleasure endorphins and enhances dopamine action. (“What’s phenethylamine?” you ask. It’s the stuff the brain releases when we become infatuated or fall in love.)
Chocolate also boosts serotonin brain levels, which helps alleviate depression. When we’re depressed, it’s generally because our serotonin levels are very low. All those anti-depressive medications, or serotonin uptake inhibitors (including Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft and many others), raise serotonin brain levels.
Another chocolate benefit: it contains anandamide, which binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as the psychoactive constituents in marijuana, producing feelings of joy and ecstasy. Like we didn’t already know that, right?
BUT – you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? – before we race to the candy aisle in our favorite grocery store and buy up all the chocolate available to obtain all these wonderful benefits, let’s talk about how much we really need to accomplish all this.
Not so much, actually. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition claimed that “adding only half an ounce of dark chocolate to an average American diet is enough to increase total antioxidant capacity 4 percent, and lessen oxidation of LDL cholesterol.”
But what about milk chocolate, most people’s favorite? Alas, milk interferes with chocolate’s antioxidant absorption, thus negating all those wonderful potential health benefits derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.
We can’t even wash down our chocolate with a cold glass of milk. Some doctors even claim it’s the milk added to chocolate that causes acne. Bummer.
There is much more to the wonders of chocolate, but I’ve run out of space. Tune in next month to find out about the other benefits of chocolate – as an anti-inflammatory, brain food, aid to weight reduction (yeah, you read that right) – the right chocolate is even good for diabetics! Don’t go choco-crazy before we talk next month, please. Just remember, not all chocolate is equal, as I’ll explain in Part 2. ’Til then . . . think dark chocolate in moderation!
*** Dr. Bera and La Montañita Co-op in Gallup will be hosting a chocolate party in September (date still to be determined). If interested in attending, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll let you know all the details. ***