Are you exhausted at this time of the year? Stressed? Eat more chocolate! …. wait what?
Who isn’t stressed and tired these days? But add work deadlines, end of year school and social engagements plus Christmas shopping into a hectic month before Christmas and no wonder so many of my clients find this time the most stressful and tiring time of all!
Here are some strategies I suggest to deal with stress more effectively:
- Eat regular meals and make sure to include a protein source while reducing sugar and caffeine dependence to minimise the effects of stress hormones on blood sugar levels.
- Stay hydrated by drinking at least 1- 2 litres of fluid a day such as: water, herbal teas, veggie juices, and coconut water.
- Taking time to exercise – even just 20 mins for a walk, swim at the beach or yoga at home will help reduce stress hormones in your body.
- Breathe – take some time and try to focus on belly breathing, which will make you feel calmer rather than the quick shallow breathing that we tend to use when we are stressed.
These are all very sensible and reliable strategies, but they may seem a little boring!
So what if I said “Eat more Chocolate!” or more precisely “Eat more Raw Cacao!!!” Interestingly, science has confirmed that one of our favourite indulgences can actually help relieve emotional stress and lower blood pressure!
Why Cacao Relieves Stress
Numerous studies have celebrated the health benefits of chocolate. One such study found that consuming 40 grams of high quality dark chocolate (or equivalent in cacao powder) daily for a period of two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormones in volunteers (who rated their stress levels as high at commencement of the study). (1)
In another study, individuals who consumed a dark chocolate drink (high in cocoa polyphenols) for 30 days reported increased calmness and contentedness compared to the placebo group. (2)
Now before you reach for that extra-large family block you need to know a few facts:
Not All Chocolate Is Created Equal
Chocolate comes from the cacao plant – (it’s a vegetable!). Organic raw cacao has an unparalleled nutrient content compared to other types. It is processed at low temperatures, so it retains more of its nutritional value compared to roasted versions that are also adulterated with poor quality oils and excess sugar and/or additives. It contains antioxidants known as flavanols, which assist our bodies to repair damage caused by free radicals which are formed by normal bodily processes, stresses and environmental toxins. But the more cacao is processed, the more flavanols are destroyed, so minimally processed organic raw cacao is the bomb when it comes to flavanols!
Organic raw cacao also contains potassium, phosphorus, chromium, vanadium, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C & omega-6 fatty acids. It is also a source of neurotransmitter modulating agents that act as natural antidepressants which explains the feelings of wellbeing we have when we consume cacao and chocolate products. Despite the presence of the mild ‘alert-brain’ stimulants theobromine and caffeine, it has valeric acid and magnesium to counterbalance these and gives cacao its stress relieving properties.
Chocolate’s Many Health Benefits
Cacao has a long history of medicinal use originating from the Mayan and Aztec civilisations then introduced into the mid 1500’s in Europe where historical manuscripts note more than 100 medicinal uses of cacao.(3)
As well as stress relief other recent studied health benefits of cacao include:
- Blood pressure reduction
- Prevention of cholesterol oxidation
- Improved insulin resistance
- Protection against coronary artery disease
- Improved cardiovascular health (4)
This research gives all stressed out chocoholics something to celebrate! Unfortunately eating milk chocolate does not have the same health benefits as milk chocolate bars contain very little chocolate and are full of sugar and fat.
My personal passion is raw cacao and almond milk – either as a soothing warm drink or over ice on those hot summer days. I also love crushed cacao nibs sprinkled on everything from muesli, coconut yogurt, and even salads to add an interesting crunchy texture and taste. I’m not suggesting having a massive dark chocolate binge of course, but as a mood booster and stress buster try incorporating raw cacao into your daily diet with 3- 4 teaspoons in a drink or a couple of squares of 70 % dark chocolate after dinner.
So if you are stressed? Eat more chocolate!
Sources for this article:
1. Francois-Pierre J. Martin, Serge Ressi, Emma Per-Trepat, Beate Kamlage, Sebastiano Collino, Edgar Leibold, Jurgen Kastler, Dietrich Rein, Laurent B. Fay, Sunil Kochhar, “Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects”, Journal of Proteome Research, October 7, 2009, 8 (12), pp 5568-5579
2. Pase, M.P., Scholey,A.B., Pipina, M., Kras, M., Nolidin, K., Gibbs, A., Wesnes, K., Stough,D., Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial J Psychopharmacol May 2013 27: 451-458
3. Teresa L. Dillinger, Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escarcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Salazar Lowe, Louis E. Grivetti, “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate”, The Journal of Nutrition. Retrieved on December 7th , 2014, from http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/8/2057S….
4. Ellam, S., Williamson, G. Cocoa and human health. Annu Rev Nutr. 2013; 33:105-128.