Ears the truth about chocolate bunnies

They're yummy and healthy, so hop to it

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With the world preparing to celebrate its first Easter amid a global pandemic, we have some much-needed good news to share.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/04/2020 (850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With the world preparing to celebrate its first Easter amid a global pandemic, we have some much-needed good news to share.

It seems a growing number of politicians have seen the wisdom of adding the Easter Bunny to the list of essential workers allowed to do their jobs during the outbreak.

“I know it is tough for the younger kids to explain what is going on right now and the kids have simple things they are worried about like the Easter Bunny,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week during a news conference at Queen’s Park. “So kids, the Easter Bunny has become an essential service and he will make sure they have chocolates ready for Easter.”

Thanassis Stavrakis / The Associated Press Politicians have been adding the Easter Bunny to the list of essential workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s a good thing, as cocoa-intensive treats aren’t just delicious; they can also be good for you.

Ford took his pro-bunny position at the urging of Toronto Mayor John Tory, who was inspired after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern added both the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy to her country’s list of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister also delivered a direct message from the Easter Bunny.

“I was talking to the Easter Bunny actually yesterday on this (social distancing), and the Easter Bunny is practising social distancing. I want the kids out there to know that. The Easter Bunny is very, very conscious of the need to do this, not to transmit this COVID. Be very, very careful.”

Which means Canadian kids — and, yes, their parents, too — can breathe a sigh of relief because an Easter without chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs would be an outcome too depressing to contemplate.

Fortunately, these sugary cocoa-intensive treats — including those cute bunnies with little chocolate face masks you’ve seen online — aren’t just delicious; they’re also good for you, as we see from today’s super-sweet list of Five Surprising Benefits From Eating Chocolate:

5) The gooey goodness: It will make you healthier

Unwrapping the science: For starters, we should acknowledge that not all chocolate is created equal. It’s all about the cocoa content, which essentially means the darker the chocolate, the greater the likelihood it’s good for your health.

Milk chocolate or white chocolate are higher in fat, dairy and sugar — things that cancer likes — whereas dark chocolate is higher in health-boosting compounds, such as flavanols. “Cocoa and dark chocolate contain a wide variety of powerful antioxidants, way more than most other foods,” according to beatcancer.org. “Dark bittersweet chocolate, as opposed to milk chocolate or white chocolate, containing cacao levels of 60-90 per cent, is much richer in antioxidant flavanols.” Studies have shown those with high levels of flavonoid in their blood have a lower risk of heart disease, asthma and (here’s a surprise) diabetes. “Dark chocolate can reduce insulin resistance, another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Dark chocolate also has one of the lowest glycemic indexes of sweet foods,” beatcancer.org notes. Studies also show dark chocolate helps lower the risk of lung, prostate and skin cancer. One study in the Journal of Nutrition suggests chocolate consumption might help reduce levels of the so-called “bad cholesterol.” That’s because it contains plant sterols (PS) and cocoa flavanols (CF). “Regular consumption of chocolate bars containing PS and CF, as part of a low-fat diet, may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure,” the authors concluded.

Research in the British Medical Journal has suggested consuming dark chocolate could help lower the risk of developing heart disease by one-third. “Canadian scientists, in a study involving 44,489 individuals, found that people who ate one serving of chocolate were 22 per cent less likely to experience a stroke than those who did not. Also, those who had about two ounces of chocolate a week were 46 per cent less likely to die from a stroke,” according to MedicalNewsToday.com.

 

4) The gooey goodness: It will make you happier

Unwrapping the science: Before you gnaw the ears off that delicious bunny, remember we are talking about eating dark chocolate — made from at least 60 per cent cacao — and eating it in moderation. Not to mention more scientific research is needed to confirm all these health benefits. Still, there is a growing body of scientific research suggesting something that most of us already feel in our bones — eating chocolate makes you feel happy.

For starters, chocolate contains a number of compounds associated with mood-lifting chemicals in the brain, such as phenylethylamine, a natural antidepressant and one of the chemicals your brain produces as you fall in love. Which means if you love chocolate, you may actually LOVE chocolate. And tryptophan, an amino acid present in small quantities in chocolate, is linked to the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness. Some argue these compounds are digested before they reach the brain, but more research (and a lot more chocolate) are required.

“Research from University College London, University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services Canada found that of the 13,000 people they surveyed, only 1.5 per cent of chocolate eaters reported depressive symptoms, compared to the 7.6 per cent of non-chocolate eaters,” according to the British newspaper The Telegraph. “Furthermore, it was found that individuals who reported eating any dark chocolate in two 24-hour periods had 70 per cent lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms in the previous two weeks than those who reported not eating chocolate at all.”

Researchers at the University of Swinburne in Australia also studied cocoa polyphenols and found they had a beneficial effect on the mood of the participants, who reported being calmer and happier. Gushed everydayhealth.org: “Out of eight studies on chocolate and mood, five showed improvements in mood, and three showed ‘clear evidence of cognitive enhancement,’ according to a systemic review in the journal Nutrition Reviews.” Did we mention it’s good for the soul?

 

3) The gooey goodness: It will make you sexier

Unwrapping the science: OK, chocolate may not make you look sexier, especially if you drip the melted variety on the front of your favourite date-night outfit. But scientists are pretty solid on the notion that some of those love-enhancing chemical compounds in dark chocolate may help you feel a bit more like (how can we phrase this in a family newspaper?) pitching woo.

Women’s Health magazine cites an Italian university study that found eating chocolate leads to higher levels of desire, arousal, and sexual satisfaction. The study, reported in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, discovered female participants who consumed at least one cube of chocolate a day experienced more active libidos and better overall sexual function than those who didn’t indulge.

“The sweet stuff contains a compound called phenylethylamine (PEA), which releases the same mood-altering endorphins that flood our bodies during sex and intensify feelings of attraction between two people,” Women’s Health reported. “Although the amount of PEA absorbed from scarfing a few truffles is most likely mild and fleeting, one thing is for sure — eating chocolate feels great and makes us happy. And sharing it with a loved one only doubles the fun.” But that’s not the only compound boosting your sex drive.

“Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants and high in caffeine, two ingredients that can increase blood flow and jump-start the libido,” the website howstuffworks.com points out. According to the BBC, in 2007, a British researcher monitored the hearts and brains of couples in their 20s as they melted chocolate in their mouths and then kissed.

“Chocolate caused a more intense and longer lasting ‘buzz’ than kissing, and doubled the volunteers’ heart rates,” the BBC noted. Dr. David Lewis said: “There is no doubt that chocolate beats kissing hands down when it comes to providing a long-lasting body and brain buzz. A buzz that, in many cases, lasted four times as long as the most passionate kiss.”

 

2) The gooey goodness: It will make you smarter

Unwrapping the science: We can tell by the sublime smile on your chocolate-stained face that you already knew this important fact — the gooey brown stuff can be good for your grey matter. In what might be the greatest discovery ever, two studies at Loma Linda University in California found dark chocolate can boost your mental faculties.

The researchers measured brain activity after feeding five people 48 grams of 70 per cent cacao. “For years, we have looked at the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content — the more sugar, the happier we are,” Dr. Lee S. Berk, the associate dean of research affairs for Loma Linda’s School of Allied Health Professions and the principal investigator for both studies, said.

“This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings. These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects.”

And scientists at Harvard Medical School have suggested that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain healthy and reduce memory decline in older people, because it improves blood flow to parts of the brain where it’s needed.

 

1) The gooey goodness: It’s good for your teeth

Unwrapping the science: Yes, you read that correctly — chocolate can help prevent tooth decay. The basic mantra is this: high-sugar milk chocolate is bad, whereas high-cocoa dark chocolate is good.

“However, not every kind of chocolate is dental dynamite. The cocoa bean is what houses the good stuff — not the chocolate itself — so the closer the confection is to the bean, the better,” is how the website howstuffworks.com puts it. There is no shortage of dental websites that laud the positive impact of dark chocolate, though eating too much of anything is never a good thing. “Recent studies emerging from Japan, England, and the U.S. support the fact that chocolate is effective at fighting cavities, plaque, and tooth decay in the mouth,” according to askthedentist.com.

“Dark chocolate (I can’t speak for sugary milk chocolate) doesn’t deserve its bad rap as a cavity-causing treat. It may actually help prevent cavities!” The thing is, dark chocolate contains more than 300 compounds and is highly complex. “Dark chocolate contains polyphenols. These chemicals can help fight the overgrowth of bacteria and other organisms in the mouth. They can neutralize organisms that cause bad breath and they can prevent some sugars form turning into acid, which can break down the enamel of your teeth and cause tooth decay and cavities.

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids. Flavonoids have been shown to slow tooth decay,” gushes blog.1stfamilydental.com. “Dark chocolate contains antioxidants. Antioxidants are beneficial to overall health in many ways but when it comes to oral health, having higher levels of antioxidants in your saliva has been shown to help fight gum disease.” It has even been suggested that compounds in chocolate are better than fluoride at fighting decay.

“Researchers are predicting that one day, the compound found in chocolate called CBH will be used in mouthwashes and toothpaste,” says askthedentist.com. On the other hand, teeth will never be good for chocolate.

 

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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