Today is World Chocolate Day, and I can’t think of a better time to discuss one of my favorite foods. Yes, I love chocolate so much that I have been known to eat it before breakfast (with my coffee!). But, there are so many other great things about chocolate besides its flavor. It’s high in antioxidants, high in fiber, contains fat to keep you full, improves mood and if you go dark enough, low in sugar too. Sounds pretty good, right? But, have you ever wondered if chocolate is okay to eat when trying to conceive? Good news, yes it is (insert cheers and clapping here)! However, (buzz kill alert) it’s important to remember that not all chocolate is created equal and moderation is key. When deciding what chocolate to buy, I recommend 70% cacao or higher dark chocolate to satisfy your cravings. From chocolate bars to cacao powder to cacao nibs, the options are endless and allow you to get creative and mix it up. Enjoy a chocolate square, make hot cocoa or sprinkle it on top of your smoothie for some powerful phyto-nutrients and antioxidants. Chocolate does a body good.
So how does this affect your fertility? Actually, there are a few ways. On the mood front, dark chocolate has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol; this is beneficial because too much stress can delay ovulation (not helping our goal). Chocolate also prevents stress as it stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine, your “good mood” neurotransmitters. The happier you are, the less stressed you feel (hooray)! Finally, the flavonoids (compounds found in plants that promote health) in dark chocolate also promote good moods and encourage blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. Simple equation: chocolate = happiness…done!
On the nutritional front, dark chocolate is loaded with minerals that help maintain hormonal balance including magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, and potassium. These minerals are vital for egg and sperm health, ovulation, endometrial lining thickness, and strong bones. Magnesium is especially important because it has been shown to ease the symptoms of fatigue, depression, and irritability (some feelings that inevitably come along with the fertility rollercoaster). Finally, consuming dark chocolate semi-regularly when trying to become pregnant may help lower blood pressure and reduce sugar cravings. It can even help reduce levels of hunger (see I told you it was magical)! Studies have found that by eating or even simply smelling bitter dark chocolate, ghrelin, the hunger hormone, may decrease which lessens the appetite and possibly the amount of sugary foods consumed. You know, the foods you may want to avoid while trying to conceive.
Chocolate has so many great health benefits but what I love most is that you can indulge without the guilt. Isn’t it nice to hear that you can enjoy a treat, dessert or even a sweet breakfast on those days where you are just ready to throw in the towel? Focusing on moderation and quality instead of deprivation is key. And just remember, chocolate comes from the cocoa bean which is a plant so basically eating chocolate is the same as eating a salad. Kind of…
Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and director of Real Nutrition, a NYC-based private practice dedicated to healthfully and successfully guiding clients to their optimal nutrition, weight, and overall wellness. She is internationally recognized for her individualized, lifestyle-focused approach, which integrates realistic food plans, smart eating habits, and active living. Through encouragement, education, and the right "tricks of the trade," Amy believes that anyone can achieve their nutritional goals while still enjoying the foods and flavors they crave.