Chocolate as Medicine?

By Mary Beth Janssen / September 12, 2011

To paraphrase Kramer talking to George on Seinfeld, “Oh you may stray, but you’ll always return to your dark master, the cocoa bean…and only the purest can satisfy you.” Amen to that! The cocoa bean, that is. I always welcome the chance to talk about chocolate—both its pleasurable and healing aspects. As a matter of fact my hubby is fond of saying that if he could come up with some combo-lombo sort of chocolate-cheese foodstuff recipe, he would do quite well with this in Holland (and with me!). You see, I’m 100 percent Dutch, and what is Holland known for? Why, cheese and chocolate, of course. But, I digress. Now most of us can relate to “the dark master’s” pleasure quotient, so let’s look at the healing part here—chocolate as medicine, that is! From enhancing one’s mood to protecting the heart to getting an ample amount of antioxidants to neutralize free-radical damage to improving glucose metabolism (diabetic control), and so much more—a daily bit (“bit” the key word here) of high quality raw or dark chocolate has now been proven to have tremendous health benefits. The cocoa bean is well known for its high level of antioxidants, specifically resveratrol (part of the family called polyphenols). Resveratrol can cross the blood-brain barrier to help protect your brain and nervous system and has been found to protect cells from free-radical damage, keep your heart healthy, lower blood pressure, inhibit the spread of cancer (especially prostate cancer), and normalize our body’s anti-inflammatory response. There’s also evidence that resveratrol can slow down the signs of aging and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The cocoa bean also contains up to 2.2 percent phenylethylamine, the “love drug,” and is one reason chocolate is thought to be an aphrodisiac. It’s believed to work by making the brain release b-endorphin, an opioid peptide which is the driving force behind chocolates pleasurable effect. Or the pain-relieving, mood-enhancing, joy-inducing, effects if you will! There are also a number of neurotransmitters and other compounds — like theobromine, tryptophan, and anandamide that enhance one’s mood, as well as calm us down and boost creativity. Then there’s the high level of potassium and magnesium, a natural muscle relaxant, as well as the “good” fats that can enhance brain function, help prevent cardiovascular disease, suppress appetite, stimulate metabolism, and boost immunity. All combined, these ingredients are what create the well-known chocolate effect.

Now mind you, we’re not speaking of the typical commercial candy bar here—highly processed with heat, as well as large amounts of refined sugar, processed dairy, chemicals, waxes, and such. We’re speaking of raw, organic, unprocessed chocolate (and sustainable, please!) made from the cocoa bean. The closer the chocolate is to its original raw state, the better it is for you. With the news of dark chocolate’s health benefits, 70 percent or higher cocoa bars have swept the marketplace. Be aware that many of these are still heavily processed—and with this lose a large amount of their beneficial constituents. Some are better than others. Become a discriminating label reader.

So how much chocolate should we eat for its healthful benefits? Here’s a perfect example of “less is more.” Researchers recommend eating a precise amount of chocolate—6.7 grams a day—for the best health benefits, especially its protective effect against inflammation and cardiovascular disease. This amounts to a small square of chocolate per day. I don’t know about you, my friends, but I may need to spring for an extra square every now and then. But of course, this is an excellent lesson in “all things in moderation,” especially when it’s the most delicious, nutritious, organic raw chocolate possible. And do involve the senses for the incredible pleasure! Smell the chocolate’s aroma before putting in your mouth (hmmmnnn, the best aromatherapy in the world and gets the saliva flowing in your mouth, the first step in digestion), then let it slowly melt in your mouth, chewing as needed, tasting the exquisite flavor across the broad expanse of your tongue and its 10,000 taste buds before letting it float down your throat into your tummy, where your G.I. system will send the beneficial parts of the chocolate to your mind-body physiology. Chocolate love at its best!

Mary Beth Janssen

Mary Beth Janssen

Author, Mind-Body Health Educator at Chopra Center for Wellbeing
Mary Beth Janssen is a certified mind-body health educator for the Chopra Center for Wellbeing and author of five books. Send questions to
Mary Beth Janssen

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