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Chocolate: the Health Benefits

October 2017 Issue 4

Most people like chocolate but to what extent do we understand the health implications of eating chocolate? There are benefits and there are risks – but what are they?

Chocolate is made from a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar. There are three broad categories of chocolate – white, milk and dark.

White chocolate is made from sugar, milk and cocoa butter but no cocoa solids.

Milk chocolate is made from sugar, milk and cocoa solids. In the UK the minimum percentage of cocoa solids is 20% and in the rest of the EU is it 25%.

Dark chocolate, also known as plain chocolate, is made from cocoa solids and cocoa butter – although there are versions with a proportion of milk. It generally has at least 35% cocoa solids can can rise to 95% or even 99%.

Health implications

White and milk chocolate cannot make health claims.

Dark chocolate – especially where with cocoa solids are 65%-70% or higher – contains compounds that do have beneficial impacts on health including:

  1. beneficial minerals – such as potassium, zinc, selenium, iron and magnesium.

  2. flavonoids which act as an antioxidant protecting the body and especially the heart from free radicals. Flavonoids also help lower blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol

  3. phenylethylamine which stimulates the production of endorphins providing a feeling of pleasure

  4. serotonin – which acts as an anti-depressant

  5. theobromine, caffeine and other compounds that are stimulants

Dark chocolate contains three types of fat. Each type of fat accounts for around a third of the fat and they are:

  1. Oleic acid: a healthy monounsaturated fat

  2. Stearic Acid: a saturated fat that has a neutral effect on cholesterol

  3. Palmitic Acid: a saturated fat that raises cholesterol

So around one third of the fat in dark chocolate may pose a risk of raising cholesterol.

One note is to avoid drinking milk when eating the few squares of dark chocolate – as the milk could prevent the absorption of the antioxidants in your body.

In conclusion, a small amount of dark chocolate contains compounds and minerals that are beneficial on many levels while some palmitic acid which can raise cholesterol is somewhat offset by the cholesterol lowering effect of the flavonoids. The key is moderation.

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Changing Times

October 2017 Issue 3

The clocks move back one hour on Saturday night 28 October – marking darker evenings and for a few short weeks lighter mornings.

Although this provides an opportunity for an extra hours sleep it does change sleep patterns and circadian rhythm. This in turn impacts on the release of hormones that affect moods, hunger, alertness, sleep and cluster headaches.

The extent of the impact depends on an individuals health, sleep pattern and lifestyle. There can be significant individual variation in adapting to the change in clocks moving back an hour. Some may experience a decline in performance, concentration, memory, sleepiness and fatigue.

As shorter days progress the general reaction is rather negative – less daylight and sunlight and colder days. The lack of sunlight means vitamin D becomes depleted which can lead to fatigue. In some cases this can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) lowering mood and in extreme cases major melancholy. US estimates suggest 20% of people can be affected by SAD in the months with shorter days. Massage therapy can help those with SAD in reducing depression, increasing relaxation, boosting mood and improving immune function.

Tips for self help

The following actions can help in adaptation and also beat the winter blues:

  1. reducing the intake of caffeine and alcohol

  2. exercising several hours before going to bed

  3. indulge in calming events before bed such as a hot bath

  4. light carbohydrates may make it easier to fall asleep

  5. some may benefit from ear plugs and eye masks

  6. rise earlier to benefit from the morning light

  7. eat vitamin D rich foods (eg fish, egg yokes and beef liver) or consider vitamin D supplements

  8. obtain and use a SAD lamp

  9. have massage when the clocks change and regular massage thereafter

Get a relaxing massage and adapt to the clock change faster and stave off the impact of shorter days. Book on 07504 554936

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