Valentine’s Day is hallmarked by the giving of chocolates to your romantic interest. Medical and scientific research reveal that gifting chocolates is not simply an act of affection. It turns out that regularly consuming chocolate prevents cardiovascular disease, promotes weight loss, and aids in meditation. Chocolate is no longer a junk food – to the contrary, it’s a holistic treat that supports the mind and body.
Chocolate was first introduced into Europe soon after Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés came upon the Maya and Aztecs and observed them preparing cacao drinks. Writings from 1556 contain a passage written by an anonymous Spanish conquistador describing how cacao seeds are ground into powder and mixed methodically to create a foaming liquid.
The anonymous conquistador wrote,
This [foaming] drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.
Of course the original Mayan and Aztec cacao drinks didn’t contain sugar and the tasty additives of modern-day chocolate products. Even so, what that conquistador wrote half a millennium ago is surprisingly true of cacao and today’s dark chocolate products according to scientific experts and physicians.
Dark Chocolate Is Good for Your Heart
Regularly consuming dark chocolate increases artery flexibility while also decreasing blood vessel leukocyte adhesion. Arterial stiffness and long-term buildup of white blood cells stuck to blood vessel walls are two significant factors in atherosclerosis.
In fact an 11-year study revealed that people who regularly consume up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate daily experience a 5.4 percent decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Furthermore according to Professor Larry Stevens of Northern Arizona University, dark chocolate is a vasodilator and regularly consuming it lowers blood pressure for the long term. According to findings by Louisiana State University, one explanation for this is that your gut bacteria convert cacao into compounds that protect blood vessel cells from stress and reduce inflammation.
Chocolate Helps You Lose Weight
Regularly munching on any kind of chocolate, regardless of cacao content, leads to weight loss. Research by Dr. Beatrice Golomb, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego revealed that people who ate chocolate five times a week experienced weight loss without an increase in physical exercise. She states that a “5-foot tall woman weighing about 120 pounds… was likely to be about five pounds lighter if she was a frequent eater of chocolate.”
According to Joshua Lambert of Penn State University, one factor contributing to chocolate’s weight loss effects is that some specific polyphenols found in cacao may inhibit pancreatic lipase, which is the enzyme responsible for digesting dietary fat. Thus, these polyphenols could be preventing the fat in commercial chocolate from being digested and absorbed into the body.
Another contributing factor included in Louisiana State University’s findings is that your gut bacteria convert cacao’s fiber into short chain fatty acids, which make you feel full after you absorb them.
Chocolate Helps You Meditate
Chocolate Mindfulness meditation is an increasingly popular kind of meditation. It involves making you more aware of your senses by taking a piece of chocolate and deeply inhaling the chocolate’s aroma, staring at the chocolate and examining it deeply; and finally placing the chocolate into your mouth and trying to notice each one of its 300 flavors while playing with it with your tongue and allowing it to melt. Then you repeat the process until all the chocolate is consumed, and while doing so you’re gently keeping your mind focused on the chocolate, shepherding your focus back when it wanders away.
Professor Stevens’ research sheds light on why this meditation technique is effective. He conducted a study involving 122 participants between 18 to 25 years old consuming confection containing 60 percent cacao. Brain activity was monitored via EEG and blood pressure was recorded.
When we asked him via email, he responded that the 60 percent cacao group experienced an increase in alpha brain waves, which is one of the desired meditative states. The group also experienced an increase in beta brain waves. He stated that increasing alpha and beta waves should produce “a more alert, attentive, and calm state.” Being calm but attentive is key for meditation.
However the participants experienced a short-term increase in blood pressure when consuming the 60 percent cacao. The 60 percent cacao confection still lowers blood pressure in the long-term, but the short-term increase in blood pressure might be troubling for some people, like those with hypertension.
Thus, Professor Stevens introduced an amino acid naturally found in green tea, L-theanine, which lowers blood pressure, to the confection and administered it to another group of participants. This group experienced an immediate drop in blood pressure rather than the short-term increase experienced by the 60 percent cacao group.
He reports in his email that this 60 percent cacao plus L-theanine group also experienced “a slight increase in alpha [waves] over that of the 60 percent cacao only [group].”
He states that theoretically, a mixture containing L-theanine and 90 to 100 percent cacao should further increase the desired brain waves to produce a more powerful attentive and calm state. He’s looking forward to conducting future studies involving higher-content cacao and L-theanine.
Thus, consuming a mixture of L-theanine and 60 or more percent cacao can aid in meditation by facilitating your transition into a calm but alert state.
However, Professor Stevens also hopes that a high-content cacao chocolate bar containing L-theanine will become a mainstream healthy alternative to coffee due to its attention-increasing and blood pressure lowering properties. He states, “A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy… so we could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention.”
When you give your love chocolates this Valentine’s Day you’re protecting their hearts and waistlines, while enriching their mind. Conversely, if you’re receiving chocolates their health benefits should keep you from feeling guilty about enjoying them. It’s even better if you’re making your own gift chocolates because you can add L-theanine to them to add more blood pressure-lowering and mental therapeutic effects.