In the age of superfoods and supplements, it’s becoming increasingly easy for us to dismiss familiar, childhood foods as valueless calorie stores from an era when yoga was for hippies, Pilates a mispronunciation of a word for airline captain and “spinning” a term we associated with small wooden toys.
But chocolate, fellow runners, is not only an elixir for the soul, but packed full of antioxidants and nutrients that could boost your health faster than you can say detoxification.
To understand where I’m coming from, here’s a quick lesson in agriculture.
The cocoa beans that yield the treats we love are sourced primarily from Africa, Asia and Latin America
It takes approximately four hundred cocoa beans to produce one pound of chocolate, through mixing a sticky paste called chocolate liquor – derived from the bean - with cocoa butter and powdered cocoa. That concoction is then combined with sugars, emulsifiers, and sometimes milk to create the perfect any-time treat.
Chocolate is about 30% fat, 5% protein, 61% carbohydrate and 3% moisture and minerals, but what matters most to our health, are the polyphenols, specifically the flavonols: plant compounds with potent antioxidant properties.
Other sources of flavanols include red wine, tea and cranberries but research has shown that those found in chocolate are perhaps the most capable of promoting healthy blood pressure, stimulating circulation and therefore maintaining a healthy heart.
SLOW THE FLOW
In the early 1900s, physicians and researchers at Harvard Medical School observed that the Kuna Indians, the indigenous residents of the San Bias Islands of Panama, almost never developed high blood pressure - even at an advanced age.
Studies indicated that neither their salt intake nor body weight were factors in this apparent immunity. What’s more, when the islanders moved to the mainland, incidences of hypertension in the community rose to more average levels for the global population, demonstrating that their low blood pressure was also not genetic.
The researchers did observe, however, that the Kuna people routinely drank about five cups of locally grown, minimally processed, high-flavonol cocoa a day, which later turned out to be the source of their cardiovascular superiority.
Nitric oxide found in cocoa, the research concluded, relaxes the blood vessels and improves circulation throughout the body thus preventing hypertension and ultimately putting less pressure on the heart
While this is of course good news for anyone with a sweet tooth – and not just us runners – there are dozens of other reasons why we should allow ourselves to indulge in a small amount of dark chocolate when we’ve unlaced and rehydrated after a tough workout.
Chocolate contains enough sugar and fat to tie our depleted stores over until we have time to prepare a proper meal with plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates. From personal experience, I know that finishing a hard run can leave you feeling a little weak at the knees. Chocolate will put some tiger back in your tank.
This divine food also contains valuable supplies of iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium – all required to support a healthy nervous system and aid the body’s absorption of key nutrients.
Though research is yet to be substantiated, the bioactive compounds found in my snack of choice are also thought to protect your skin against the sun’s aggressive UV rays.
And finally, I’m a devout proponent of establishing a reward system for hard work.
As simple a soul as I may be, the last kilometer of a run - through wet and windy London - always appears that bit easier when I think about the squares of deliciousness waiting at home.
And by the way, hot chocolate offers all the benefits of its solid peer too: Use high quality powder with at least 70% cocoa solids, add a drizzle of honey, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla, and even a tiny pinch of sea salt. Trust me on this one!
(Images sourced from: www.happyhealthylonglife.com, www.fanpop.com, www.strangehistory.net)