Who says we can’t indulge a little and improve our health at the same time? The verdict is in: the latest research shows that some of our favorite Valentine’s Day treats, in moderation, can actually be good for us.
A research team from the University of Helsinki, Finland, asked pregnant women to rate their stress levels and document their chocolate consumption. Guess what they found? Six months after birth, the mothers rated their infants’ behaviour in various categories including fear, soothability, smiling and laughter. The babies born to women who had eaten chocolate daily during pregnancy smiled and laughed more and were more active. Even the babies of stressed women who had regularly consumed chocolate during pregnancy showed less fear of new situations than babies of stressed moms-to-be who abstained. Awesome news for new moms and chocoholics!
This tasty treat boosts our endorphins and also contains tryptophan (a building block of serotonin) and the brain chemical phenylethylamine, known to promote our feelings of attraction, excitement and love. Also, new research shows that yet another chemical is involved in the happy little high we get from chocolate. Dr. Daniele Piomelli, a neuroscientist and professor of pharmacology at the University of California, Irvine, suggests that chocolate influences anandamide, a chemical that targets our brain much the way THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, does. Chocolate contains anandamide, as well as two chemicals known to slow the breakdown of this neurochemical, so it might work by prolonging the action of this natural stimulant in our brain.
Chocolate is also good for our heart and blood vessels. According to a study published in the July 2007 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, eating a small portion of dark chocolate each day can lower blood pressure without packing on extra pounds. Dark chocolate’s heart-healthy effects are thought to come from flavonoids, natural compounds in cocoa beans that give dark chocolate its bittersweet taste. Dark chocolate is richest in flavonoids, whereas white chocolate contains none. Flavonoids have been shown to inhibit blood clot formation, ease constriction of blood vessels and slow the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Enjoy a one-inch square of dark chocolate per day to reap the benefits.
The French have had it right for centuries. Consumed in moderation, red wine can reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes, prostate cancer and heart disease. The antioxidant polyphenols found in the skin and seeds of grapes — especially catechins and resveratrol — aid heart health, inhibit inflammation and help prevent the development of certain cancers. Resveratrol, a natural antifungal and antibacterial compound in grapes, may benefit nerve cells and assist in the prevention of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, tested a variety of wines to determine which types have the highest concentrations of flavonoids. They found dry wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon to be the flavonoid favourites, followed closely by Petit Syrah and Pinot Noir. Merlots and red Zinfandels were found to have fewer flavonoids than the others. Despite all the wonderful benefits of red wine, note that you should stay away from this beverage if you have a medical condition worsened by alcohol, such as alcoholism, elevated triglycerides, pancreatitis, liver disease, uncontrolled hypertension, depression or congestive heart failure. Enjoy no more than one to four glasses per week for women and three to seven glasses per week for men, with meals.