Heart of Darkness: Why Chocolate is Good for You

How Sweet It Is

Heart of Darkness: Why Chocolate is Good for You

“Chocolate is nature’s way of making up for Mondays.” -Anonymous.

In recent years you might have heard rumours that chocolate is good for you. And promptly dismissed said rumours as being way too good to be true.

Well, lend me your ears, darlings. Because it’s so very true.

Much like coffee, chocolate is surprisingly full of phytonutrients like flavonoids, healthy fatty acids, polyphenols and other antioxidants.

RELATED: Start Your Day With This Chocolate Protein Shake That's Good For You

Translation? Health benefits for you and your loved ones. Let me count the ways:

1. Chocolate can lower your blood pressure. Several studies have demonstrated small, but significant, reductions in blood pressure when people eat chocolate regularly. In fact, when The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition pooled the results of several studies, they found that chocolate was better at lowering blood pressure than soy protein and tea (two other flavonoid-rich “superfoods”).

2. Chocolate can reduce your cholesterol. Cocoa butter contains a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which is the same heart-healthy stuff found in olive oil. Research has shown that chocolate consumption can lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise your HDL (good cholesterol).  

3. Chocolate can help prevent cancer. It’s because of all those antioxidants, particularly in dark chocolate.They're known to fight free radicals and chronic inflammation, processes that are linked to cancer. Some early research is showing chocolate’s promise in the cancer-fighting department, but more studies are planned to fully figure this out. 

4. Chocolate can improve your vision. Who needs carrots when you’ve got chocolate? British researchers performed a small study on healthy adults, and found that subjects’ performance on vision tests improved after eating a dark chocolate bar, as compared to a white chocolate bar. The theory: flavonoids improve blood flow to the retina and brain.

5. Chocolate can prevent heart disease: This is the biggie, the benefit that has the most solid research to back it up. Several studies have demonstrated chocolate’s heart-healthy actions: it appears to have antioxidant, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic, and anti-thrombotic effects, and to improve coronary blood flow. Plus, a meta-analysis published recently in the British Medical Journal concluded that regular chocolate consumption was associated with a 37% reduction in the risk of heart disease. Seriously, it’s like the people who first linked chocolate and Valentine’s Day knew something...

6. Chocolate can prevent strokes. A Swedish study last year, of over 30,000 women, observed that women who ate the most chocolate (an average of 2.3 ounces per week) had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke than those virtuous women who never or rarely ate chocolate.

So, we can prevent heart disease, cancer, and strokes...all with a little medicinal application of chocolate? Me likey.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

The darker the chocolate the better—dark chocolate has a higher concentration of antioxidants and flavonoids than milk chocolate.

Also, you can easily overdo it on chocolate. Obviously. Chocolate does contains lots of good stuff, but it also packs a lot of calories, fat, and sugar. Read: no scarfing down an entire box of chocolate in one sitting. My advice is to be a chocolate snob. Channel your inner French woman and savour small doses of the best quality, most delicious chocolate you can find.

And remember the immortal words of Lucy (via Charles M. Schulz):

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."


What Is Ghrelin?

Know Thine Enemy

What Is Ghrelin?

Ghrelin is a hormone you may not have heard of, but you really should get to know. And take charge of the little bugger. That’s because ghrelin is your hunger hormone.

Ghrelin was discovered by researchers in Japan about 10 years ago—it was originally identified as a growth hormone. Only later did its role in stimulating appetite become understood.

RELATED: How To Eat According To Your True Hunger Cues

It's a hormone secreted by the lining of your stomach. It goes up when your tummy is empty, essentially sending a FEED ME signal to your brain. Ghrelin levels then decrease for about three hours after a meal, give or take. At which point it starts to spike again, prompting hunter-gatherer type behaviour. Like rooting through the back of your cupboard for a box of Oreos.

But ghrelin is nasty in another way, too. Not only does it make you eat more, it also stimulates the accumulation of fat in your visceral organs, in the abdominal zone. In other words: it promotes belly fat. See what I mean? Nasty.

So the question is: how can you control your hunger hormone?

  • Get more sleep. A recent study showed that sleep deprivation is associated with an increase in ghrelin levels and hunger, compared to people who had a good night’s sleep.
  • Avoid meals high in saturated fat. When you eat a lot of saturated fat it doesn’t seem to decrease your ghrelin count quite so much as a meal rich in protein, or “good” carbs (ie. low GI carbs--whole grains and the like).
  • Hit the pavement. A vigorous cardio workout like running on a treadmill appears to suppress ghrelin production and, in turn, appetite. And that’s what I call win-win.

12 Quick Tips for Better Zzzs

Sweet Dreams

12 Quick Tips for Better Zzzs

Personally, I am a big fan of sleep. I haven't been getting as much of it, lately, as I'd like (my 18-month-old only recently started sleeping through the night)...and, frankly, it sucks.

Sleep deprivation not only feels awful, it carries major health consequences. A multitude of studies show the health dangers of insufficient or poor quality sleep. A sampling of said consequences: heart disease, hypertension, depression, and diabetes.

Also, sleep deprivation: not your best look. A study recently showed that people who had a crappy night's sleep the night before are rated less attractive, compared to when they had a solid night's rest. But things get worse: it can make you fat. Lack of sleep increases ghrelin, your hunger hormone, triggering those somebody-find-me-a-cheesecake type feelings.

But...what if you have trouble sleeping? And not because a baby is keeping you up. What if you just flat can't get to sleep? Well, you’re not alone. One third of Canadians report periodic sleeplessness, and 1 in 10 of us suffer chronic insomnia. Patients come to me with this issue all. The. Time.

Whether it’s difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakening, or all-around crummy sleep...the good news is this: there are lots of things you can do.

Here’s your toolbox for better sleep:

  1. Establish rhythmsFor sound snoozing, you need a regular sleep schedule.  Turn in at the same time each evening, and arise the same time each morning. Yes, even on Saturday.
  2. Turn off the lights. Sounds obvious, but I’m not just talking about the lamp on your nightstand. Recent studies have shown that even tiny amounts of light in your bedroom, while you’re sleeping, can have adverse effects. So get blackout curtains and remove any gadgets (computers, DVD players, phones...) that blink or emit little lights. Cover everything else up. Or, wear an eye mask (a la Carrie Bradshaw).
  3. Limit caffeine. If (like me) you simply can’t imagine your day without your venti nonfat latte (and you want the health benefits of coffee anyway! Yes...I said health benefits), make it a morning treat only. No caffeine after noon.
  4. Wear socks.  Recent research has unearthed some interesting findings on sleep and body temperature.  Improving blood flow to the extremities keeps your feet warm and your core relatively cool. This pattern appears to benefit sleep. 
  5. No nightcaps.  Curb alcohol in the hours before bedtime.  Although it may help you drop off, you’ll pay the price with increased wakefulness later in your sleep cycle.  Unless you have plans for 3 a.m. activity, best skip that pre-bed glass of wine.
  6. Nourish sleep. The right bedtime snack can help you achieve a full night of restorative sleep. (hint: nosh on complex carbs and a little tryptophan).
  7. Create a haven.  Transform your boudoir into a place that cultivates restful nights.  Reserve it for sleep and sex only—no television, no exercise and, especially, no work. It should be a comfortable temperature and well-ventilated.  Invest in a high-quality, supportive bed.  Run a fan at night if you have noisy street sounds (or the opposite: unnerving silence). 
  8. Take magnesium. Magnesium is a marvel of a mineral, and research is beginning to show its benefits for stress, depression, anxiety...and sleep.
  9. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. We do this for our kids, right? (A bath, a story...) Why not make your own little bedtime ritual? Try a bubble bath and herbal tea, then a relaxing activity like knitting or (my personal fave) reading a great book.
  10. Exercise.  Regular exercise promotes sound sleep.  But don’t exercise just before bed—you’ll be all pumped up.  In particular, try yoga.  With its blend of relaxation, focus and stretching, yoga charms the sandman.
  11. Harmonize with daylight.  Work with your body’s response to light and dark cycles.  Exposure to sunlight—as little as thirty minutes, early in the day—encourages sleep onset when bedtime arrives. 
  12. Meditate. Studies have shown that regular meditation nourishes sleep.  Experiment with various techniques: mindfulness, transcendent, or counting meditation…sheep, perhaps? 


Now...what if your insomnia is caused by a baby waking you up? Is sleep an unattainable dream for you? Not necessarily. Here are my thoughts on that....