By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Who loves chocolate? The good news is that dark chocolate provides nutritional benefits! It is made from the seed of the cocoa tree and is full of antioxidants. Dark chocolate contains a high level of minerals including iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, fibre and selenium – all of which are important to health and fertility. In fact, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you, as dark chocolate contains less sugar- try to choose chocolate which contains 70% cocoa and above where possible.
How is dark chocolate beneficial to health and fertility?
Dark chocolate has been shown in studies to have a significant amount of flavanols, providing protective benefits in relation to insulin sensitivity, lowering cholesterol, heart health and blood pressure. Dark chocolate releases beta endorphins, which are neurochemicals that cause a feeling of well-being and reducing stress and has been shown to aid memory, which is important for brain health.
When it comes to fertility, dark chocolate has been shown to support male fertility as it is a rich source of the amino acid L-arginine which in studies have been linked to improving sperm count and motility. The amino acid L-arginine is a component of the molecule Nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has the ability to expand small blood arteries, allowing more blood to flow to the nearby organs. This amino acid can also support female fertility in a similar way -helping increase the flow of blood to the ovaries and uterus.
Dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants, which can help the health of sperm and egg cells by ‘zapping’ free radicals which can cause damage to the DNA of the cells, helping to prevent cell ageing.
Fertility issues and treatment can be very stressful indeed on both the body and mind. The magnesium in dark chocolate helps to reduce stress as Serotonin (a chemical that nerve cells release which helps to stabilise mood, feelings of wellbeing and happiness) depends on magnesium for its production and function.
Consuming dark chocolate may reduce cravings for refined sugar which is crucial in the management of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is an underlying cause of PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). In women with PCOS, insulin resistance can disrupt the monthly cycle of ovulation and menstruation and increase the risk of developing diabetes.
So, chocolate lovers enjoy! but not too much –go for a chocolate square, make some beetroot brownies, make hot cocoa or sprinkle it on top of your smoothie for some powerful micronutrients and antioxidants!
Beetroot Brownies- Great for a Mood Boost
By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Beetroot is a great source of nutrients such vitamin C, folate and iron and when it comes to boosting mood, beetroot also packs a secret weapon – betaine! Betaine is a modified amino acid which, in addition to many other benefits, helps to increase our levels of a specific compound called s-adenosylmethionine (SAM). This then goes on to increase our levels of serotonin, plus it can also boost our production of dopamine too! Combine these properties with those from the dark chocolate already mentioned and you have a great mood boosting brownie. Enjoy!
- 400g (2-3 medium beetroot) beetroot, chopped
- 150g dark Chocolate (80% cocoa)
- 100g butter
- 200g stevia
- 3 free-range eggs
- 100g wholemeal plain flour
- 30g cocoa powder
- Top, tail and peel the beetroot. Roughly chop and place into a large bowl. Add a splash of water, cover with cling film – pierced with a few small holes – then microwave on high for 10 minutes, or until tender.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter then line a 20cm x 30cm tin. Roughly chop the chocolate and cut the butter into cubes.
- Drain the beetroot through a sieve, then place into a food processor with the chocolate and butter. Whizz until the mix has melted and is as smooth as you can get it.
- Whisk the sugar and eggs in a large bowl for about 2 minutes or until thick, pale and foamy.
- Spoon the beetroot mixture into the bowl with the whisked eggs. Then, using a large metal spoon, gently fold the beetroot into the whisked eggs, keeping as much air in the mixture as you can. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into the bowl and gently fold in to make a smooth batter.
- Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 20-25 minutes or until risen all over. Cool the brownies completely in the tin, then cut into squares. Serves 15-20 squares.