Myth or reality: what really happens to your body when you eat chocolate

There is good news for chocolate lovers. And it is that its basic ingredient, cocoa, reports multiple benefits for our body and even improves our mood.

This was explained by María del Carmen Iñarritu Pérez, professor at the Department of Public Health of the Faculty of Medicine (FM) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The expert said that cocoa, among other advantages, has anti-inflammatory effects, provided by phytochemicals -or antioxidant substances- that the plant generates for its protection.

In addition, she pointed out that cocoa contains nitric oxide, which sends signals to the arteries to relax them and improve blood flow. This causes fewer clots to produce, reducing the risk of having a stroke. Thus, regularly consuming this popular ingredient helps cardiovascular health and improves blood pressure.

The correct functioning of the blood flow contributes to taking care of cognitive memory and performs neurogenesis -the process by which new neurons are created-, slowing down neurodegeneration, mainly in older people. This disease causes the cells of the nervous system to stop working or die, but cocoa is a good natural antidote to prevent it.

In addition, antioxidants also protect cell membranes and help reduce cell damage. Cocoa also contains fiber and substances that improve intestinal function and, at the same time, help strengthen the immune system.

According to the UNAM researcher, the bitter or semi-bitter ones, which contain a greater amount of cocoa (70 to 80 percent), provide more health benefits, both physical and emotional.

In Mexico, the ancient Mayan and Toltec civilizations already knew the multiple benefits that cocoa brought to human health.

Pre-Hispanic cultures used it as currency, and it was important in some rituals. As food, it was intended only for the upper classes. It was also consumed by people who suffered from depression because it was considered a food that improves mood.

The reason is that chocolate contains sensory substances, that is, that texture of flavor that melts in the mouth and that gives us a sense of reward and feeling good. In addition, caffeine helps improve mood and reduce fatigue; theobromine works as an antidepressant.

Another substance is salsolinol, a dopamine derivative that functions as a neurotransmitter and plays an important role in the brain’s reward system. “That’s why when we eat chocolate we feel more cheerful,” said the specialist.

However, this does not mean that all chocolates are healthy, far from it. The common ones only have 20 to 25 percent cocoa, so their benefits are less, and the number of calories they have from sugar and milk is higher. In the case of white chocolate, it mainly contains cocoa butter.

The UNAM researcher recommends consuming a 10-gram dark or semi-sweet chocolate bar every day, but containing at least 70 to 80 percent cocoa. However, “if we consume it in excess, we will gain weight,” she warned.

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