Is chocolate good for your cycle? Can it actually relieve cramps?
We’ve got a yes-but answer for you. Yes, but not ALL chocolate.
Two ingredients that are in most chocolate bars are cacao (or cocoa) and sugar. Cacao* is a highly nutritious superfood that boasts a wide range of health benefits. Studies suggest it may improve brain function, reduce inflammation and lower your risk of heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, for example.
Excessive sugar intake, on the other hand, is linked to inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. This is important to call out because the average American woman consumes 3x the recommended daily limit.
To make your chocolate consumption not only guilt-free but good for you, the trick is to choose chocolates with lots of cacao and just a little bit of sugar (or no sugar at all). Dr. Weil considers chocolate bars that are 70% or higher to be a healthy addition to your diet.
One of the reasons we love cacao and dark chocolate is that they’re rich in magnesium, which helps relax your muscles, ease aches, and reduce pain. That’s what got them on our list of five foods that naturally relieve cramps. It also contains easy-to-absorb iron, which is great for producing quality blood.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cycle-related benefits. Studies have shown that cacao, and to a lesser degree dark chocolate, may:
- Help reduce inflammation
- Have a blood thinning effect similar to aspirin
- Improve blood sugars
- Improve blood flow
- Help relax the muscles of your blood vessels
- Help protect your skin from the sun and improve blood circulation, surface texture, and hydration of your skin.
- Make you feel relaxed
- Improve “mood and symptoms of depression by reducing stress levels and improving calmness, contentment and overall psychological well-being.” (More research needed on this one though.)
If you’re sold on cacao and want to up your intake without adding more sugar to your diet, here are a few things you can do:
- Add cacao nibs to your smoothie, cereal, granola, and/or nut mix.
- Make chocolate nicecream by blending frozen bananas with cacao powder.
- Make hot chocolate with unsweetened cacao powder, the milk of your choice (or hot water), cinnamon, a dash of vanilla extract, and a few drops of Stevia (or the sweetener of your choice). Bonus points if you add in some maca powder or ashwagandha.
- Make chocomilk with your favorite milk, cacao powder, and a couple drops of Stevia.
- Make chocolate chia pudding. (Chia seeds are great for your cycle too, so this one packs extra benefits.)
- Make these chocolate coconut date bars. (You can skip the agave or use half the amount and they’ll still come out great.)
Have a cacao recipe you love? Share it with us in the comments section. We’d love to try it out.
*Note: there’s some confusion about the terms “cocoa” and “cacao” and how they are used. In general, they both refer to the same ingredient, but there are variations and different degrees of processing. It could be raw or roasted, whole or ground, fermented or washed, for example. We’re using “cacao” throughout as that is the word used for its purest form. Sometimes people use the term “cocoa” when it is roasted or ground but others continue to use “cacao” for that. Because brands are so inconsistent with this, it’s hard to know the difference based on the word used. We’d suggest not getting too caught up on this – as long as it’s not Dutch processed, you’ll be getting lots of benefits from the cacao or cocoa. (The process used for Dutch cocoa compromises some of the health benefits. For example it leads to a 60% decrease in flavanols, which are known for their potent anti-inflammatory effects.)