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Anyone for cocoa? Try a little extra indulgence for winter survival

PIC1 1One of the best things about winter has to be steaming mugs of hot chocolate/cocoa. Its comforting, indulgent and downright delicious. You could say its an essential ingredient to help us survive the cold winter months.  And there’s no guilt attached since chocolate is now practically being touted as a superfood thanks to its strong antioxidant effects provided by the vast array of flavanols, anthocyanins and phenolic acids that it contains. It’s also jam-packed with a plethra of nutrients including omega 6 fatty acids, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 and E, essential minerals including magnesium, calcium, sulphur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, plus beta-carotene. 

Chocolate is good for the body, having been shown to benefit heart health. Yes you read that correctly! That delicious sweet treat that you’re made to feel so guilty about, actually reduces the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke by lowering blood pressure, increasing blood circulation and reducing clotting. And that’s not all, it also improves brain function and helps to protect cells from inflammation. Of course to get the maximum benefit we are talking about chocolate that is 70 percent cacao or more, but chocolate is chocolate, right?

PIC2 1Of course we all know that chocolate keeps the soul happy! And furthermore it’s a fact! Studies have concluded that there are a multitude of components within chocolate that stimulate feelings of happiness and satisfaction, for instance tryptophan, phenylethylalanine and theobromine, to name just three. Put simply, tryptophan is an amino acid that helps the brain make the neurotransmitter serotonin, dubbed the “feel-good hormone” which increases a positive mood and emotions. A lack of serotonin is believed to be a key factor is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), so even more reason to indulge in a few more hot chocolates, if you’re looking for an excuse! Phenylethlalanine is another neurotransmitter, and is key to the feelings of euphoria we experience when feeling passionate love, stimulating increased heart rate and higher alertness, and making us feel energised, optimistic and upbeat. Unsurprisingly it’s a natural antidepressant. Meanwhile theobromine stimulates a natural high, comparable with certain recreational drugs but at a much lower level, thus providing relaxation and relieving stress. The good news is that the feel-good effect is stimulated regardless of the percentage of chocolate, so if 70% cacao is not your thing, you can still indulge in your preferred chocolate and eat or drink yourself happy.

Now did you also know that chocolate is great for the skin? Yes, that’s right! For all those people who were told that chocolate will give you spots, you may be surprised to learn that chocolate is extremely beneficial to the skin when applied topically, and calming acne and breakouts is one of it’s specialities! 

Simple 3 ingredient Cacao Face Mask Recipe

PIC3 1When the rigours of winter are getting too much, or your skin is starting to suffer from the adverse weather, set an evening aside for some chocolate indulgence. Don your favourite pair of fluffy slippers and comfy pyjamas, sit in front of the fire (or radiator), put on your favourite film, relax and enjoy a huge mug of rich, decadent hot chocolate as you treat your face to a chocolate mask. 

Ingredients: ½ tbsp cocoa powder,  ½ tbsp of warm water,  ½ tbsp of almond or grapeseed oil.
Method: Blend the ingredients together well until you have a smooth fluid mixture with no lumps.
To use: Apply to the face using a make-up brush, avoiding the eyes. Leave for 15 minutes or more, and rinse off with warm water. Pat the skin dry.
Further enhance the benefits of the mask and lock in moisture by applying chocolate-cream or cocoa-butter.  

What are the benefits of chocolate/cacao to the skin?

Chocolate/cacao is a powerful antioxidant
PIC4 1With higher levels of antioxidants than green tea, black tea or red wine according to studies, chocolate (cacao) is one of the richest natural sources of antioxidants, thereby protecting the skin against free radicals and preventing cell damage, stimulating cell repair and the regeneration of new skin cells, protecting elastin and helping to increase blood flow, restoring a healthy appearance, protecting against the natural signs of ageing, and reversing environmental damage. 

Chocolate/cacao moisturises and revives dull skin
Dull skin is a sad fact of Winter, however by increasing blood flow, skin renewal and providing deep nourishment from the fatty acids it contains, chocolate can revive dull dry skin. By restoring the skin’s lipidic layer, reinforcing the skin barrier, and reducing water loss, the skin remains better hydrated for longer, and thereby retains a healthy radiant glow.

Chocolate/cacao soothes skin irritation
PIC5 1Another skin woe during the Winter months is skin irritation. Be it windburn, exacerbated eczema or dermatitis, chapping or general dryness, chocolate can help to soothe any irritation. As a natural anti-inflammatory it dispels itching, dryness, swelling and redness. The zinc content is also a panacea for skin ravaged by acne, helping to calm the skin, eliminate the acne-causing bacteria, and control oil production.

Chocolate/cacao protects against blue light damage to the skin
It’s a pretty good bet that during the winter months you are exposing yourself to more night-time exposure of blue light from LED bulbs, televisions and personal devices such as smartphones and laptops which is extremely detrimental to the skin. So what is blue light? Blue light or high-energy visible (HEV) light is the only part of light visible to the naked eye, making up about 50% of the sunlight spectrum and the reason that the sky appears blue. Natural bluelight from the sun has a positive effect on the body, boosting the mood, stimulating alertness and improving memory. However, night-time blue light is another story, penetrating the skin deeper and damaging essential proteins leading to increased wrinkles, a lack of skin elasticity and firmness, and additionally known to increase hyperpigmentation, in particular melasma, a condition which causes dark patches on the face, often on the cheeks, forehead and chin. Studies have clearly demonstrated that it increases levels of DNA damage, photo-ageing, cell and tissue death and injury, and collagen breakdown, in addition to disrupting the skin’s barrier by inducing oxidative stress. One particularly worrying study even demonstrated that there was increased photo damage and pigmentation to an individual on the side of the face that the individual rested their phone. Luckily for us chocolate or cacao is one of the best known antioxidants to protect the skin from blue light. 

Chocolate/cacao has anti-ageing effects for the skin
PIC6 1Theobromine, which gives the natural high when you ingest chocolate or inhale its divine aroma, acts as a vasodilator to increase the flow of blood to the skin’s surface. This, combined with the vitamin E which it contains, can help to restore a more youthful appearance by promoting cell growth and regeneration and stimulating collagen and elastin production, whilst the increased blood flow helps to promote healing and renewal, resulting in an overall reduction in fine lines and wrinkles and a more radiant complexion. This effect was confirmed by a study in Seoul National University in Korea which demonstrated that cacao increases blood flow and helps to regulate skin health and significantly reduce wrinkles, in addition to improving skin density and hydration.

This winter indulge your mind, body and skin with the feel good benefits of chocolate. Happiness guaranteed!

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