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Callie’s Cabin: Chunks of nature’s chocolate to feel good

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.
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October is going to be a stressful month with taxes, the election, an unpredictable virus, and Mercury Retrograde mid-month. But, you can find a sweet way to keep your cool by turning to a forbidden superfood. Chocolate. Yes, chocolate. How exactly does chocolate help you stay healthy and feel good?

A healthful diet and lifestyle are part of the arsenal to beat the battle of the bulge, which often be linked sooner than later to heart disease — still America’s number one killer for both men and women, according to the American Heart Association.

In a cocoa bean shell, chocolate is made from the cocoa plant, which means it contains many of the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. These good-for-you perks stem from flavonoids, which act as mighty antioxidants. We know antioxidants protect the body from bad-for-you free radicals (imagine little Pac-Men wearing T-shirts with the words “Antioxidant Fighter”) and gobble these harmful culprits in your body, lowering the risk of damage that can lead to heart disease.

Heart-healthy chocolate has also been shown to lower blood pressure, and regulate cholesterol by reducing the bad kind while maintaining the good kind — two culprits for boomers and elderly folk. Caveat: Start slow working your way up to the dark stuff. Try 48% to 50% to 60% cacao content infused with spices, fruits and nuts. You can do this the easy way. Yeah, 70% is good but it takes a sophisticated palate and it is an acquired taste.

The Surprising Secrets To Savor: Chocolate Keeps The Doctor Away

Disease/How chocolate works

Obesity: Monounsaturated fats in dark chocolate satisfy your hunger and chocolate tends to a sweet tooth, so overindulgence in food and calories is not a problem.

Heart Disease: Antioxidants in dark chocolate help to lower the risk of heart disease of all kinds.

Diabetes: Dark chocolate may cut the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood, which may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Longevity: Dark chocolate in moderation lowers the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes — all diseases that can shorten lifespan.

5 Chocolate’s Compounds, Mood Enhancers

Here, take a quick look how you can get a quick heart-healthy mood booster from some of the most talked about compounds in chocolate.

Anandamide: Touted as the “bliss chemical,” it occurs naturally in the brain and when released to our brain receptors can provide good feelings.

Caffeine: The ingredient has a stimulating effect on the nervous system. But note, both chocolate and cocoa contain minimal amounts of caffeine. Did you know that there isn’t a whole lot of caffeine in any kind of chocolate? A 1-ounce piece of dark chocolate contains 10-20 milligrams of caffeine.

Endorphins: Dark chocolate, like exercise, help release endorphins, natural painkillers in your body that act on the nervous system to alleviate pain.

PEA: Another brain chemical can increase blood pressure and feelings of excitement and alertness. It also has been called the “love drug” because it can mimic feeling of falling in love.

Serotonin: This is a brain chemical that can make you feel happier. It is another compound in chocolate that can provide a calming effect. When your serotonin level is low, you may feel down.

The bottom line: Savor a scoop of dark chocolate gelato. Munch on a handful of dark chocolate chips in homemade trail mix with nuts and dried fruit. Or make a batch of dark chocolate pumpkin cookies for a pre-Halloween treat. Dump the guilt. A bit of chocolate is good for your mind and body.

(Excerpt from The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington).

Cal Orey, M.A., is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, HonTey, Coffee, Tea, Superfoods, Essential Oils, Herbs and Spices) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is http://www.calorey.com.


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