The Goods On Chocolate: An Ayurvedic Perspective
Chocolate is loaded with over 300 potent chemicals and antioxidants that host a plethora of health benefits. From an Ayurvedic perspective, chocolate aggravates Pitta (fire energy) and Vata (wind energy), but can be taken medicinally to stimulate Kapha (earth energy) or achieve another desirable effect.
To be clear, any discussion surrounding the benefits of chocolate is referring to 100% pure cacao, and not chocolate with added fats and sugars (sorry, Snickers!). According to Dr. John Douillard, the benefits of chocolate are generally noticeable in chocolate with a minimum of 70% cacao content, with higher percentages offering more benefits. One more thing: with chocolate, a little goes a long way.
A medicinal dose is generally a maximum of 2 squares daily. Larger amounts will imbalance the doshas and undermine the benefits of the chocolate.
SEE ALSO: What Is A Karma Yogi?
Chocolate: What it Does
- Chocolate releases endorphins in the brain, leading to feelings of euphoria and satiety.
- Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that is both a stimulant and a sedative. A medicinal dose of chocolate will soothe and relax you, while also providing an energy boost.
- Most of us have heard of caffeine. In medicinal doses, caffeine is a stimulant that delivers a quick shot of energy and boosts physical and mental performance. Chocolate is a caffeinated food.
- Chocolate is a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which affects brain serotonin synthesis. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining mood balance, and is a natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety chemical.
- Chocolate is rich in phenylethylamine, commonly called the “love drug.” Phenylethylamine is the chemical compound responsible for releasing and facilitating the action of dopamine, another brain chemical that makes us feel better, happier, and more alive.
- Another chemical found in chocolate is anandamide, which is derived from the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning “bliss.” Anandamide activates the dopamine receptors in the brain so that the sense of well-being is heightened, leaving us wanting more of that feeling. And chocolate also has specific compounds that inhibit the breakdown of anandamide, allowing the blissful feeling to linger for longer periods of time.
Why Chocolate is Good for You
- Chocolate is full of flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that protect the heart by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, improving glucose metabolism, and guarding against coronary artery disease.
- Some studies suggest that the compounds in chocolate optimize brain function and may even improve mild cognitive impairment.
- Chocolate alleviates chest congestion by improving blood circulation and relaxing bronchial spasms. It reduces cough and was traditionally used to treat fever.
- Chocolate is an aphrodisiac. According to Ayurveda, chocolate warms the heart and abdomen while stimulating the reproductive organs and relaxing the pelvic muscles.
- Chocolate is high in magnesium and antioxidants.
The Bad News
Typically, the cacao in dark chocolate is highly processed and contains added fats and sugars that appeal to our cravings for the sweet taste. A higher cacao content means less sugar, but it still delivers a spike in blood sugar and insulin. It doesn’t take much sugar to over-stimulate the nervous system and elevate blood sugars to high levels. If you do not have any pre-diabetic issues and are otherwise in good health, a small piece of chocolate after a meal may offer you all of the benefits without negatively affecting blood sugar levels.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, cacao is hot, bitter, and difficult to digest. Depending on your energetic constitution, these qualities might be helpful or harmful. As a whole, we have become overly reliant on the sweet taste, and so the bitter taste of pure unsweetened chocolate is something of an antidote to that dependence. However, if you’re a person with a lot of Pitta energy, the heat of chocolate may be too much for your energetic body and will contribute to issues caused by too much heat, such as irritated eyes or heartburn.
People with a lot of Vata energy often have irregular digestion and may find that over-consumption of chocolate leaves them feeling nauseated. Vatas also tend to have sensitive nervous systems, and so the stimulant effects of chocolate may leave these people feeling nervous and hyperactive. For Kapha energy, however, pure chocolate can be a welcome source of stimulation to the body and mind that offsets lethargy or slowness.
The caveat: any sweeteners or fats added to the chocolate will only aggravate the heavy qualities that characterize the Kapha dosha.
Ayurveda holds that imbalance of the doshas is what leads to disease. So if we take chocolate, or any other substance for that matter, and process it or use it in ways that do not complement our unique energetic constitution, we will create illness in spite of the beneficial qualities that the substance has to offer by itself.
Taking chocolate mindfully can be powerful medicine.
Remember to use chocolate with a minimum of 70 percent cacao (higher percentages are even better), and to keep dosages small.
A small piece or two a day will do the trick.
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