Chocolate – the Secret to a Long Life?
Is chocolate the secret to a long life? Is it the magical ingredient to longevity? You’ve heard people make these claims before, right? It’s not uncommon for dark chocolate to be heralded for everything from boosting heart health to lowering the risks of diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. The research has stacked up mighty well in favor of chocolate over the years.
I recently noticed another story in the Washington Post. It was written by another venerable author, Margareta Magnusson, espousing the idea of chocolate as (part of) the secret to a long life. In her most recent book, The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly, Life Wisdom of Someone Who Will (Probably) Die Before You, Magnusson credits gin, cats, and chocolate for growing old gracefully. I personally think that’s a great list to pursue—gin, cats, and chocolate—in the quest for a long life.
Danish Hygge and Swedish Mys
My mom was Swedish. Her parents—my grandparents—came to the US in the early part of the 20th century, so I’m predisposed and more than a little attracted to the Scandinavian ways. The idea of hygge, while not Swedish, has its Swedish equivalent in the word “mys,” which means cozy (“mysa” is the verb to be cozy). The Scandinavians seem to know how to do this right. It has to do with slowing down, enjoying the moment, surrounding yourself with people you care about, letting go of stress.
Mys and hygge are particularly relevant this time of year, when in Scandinavia (more so) and in Maine (slightly less so) the winter nights are long and the season lasts for many months. The concept is, at heart, a means to survive and thrive through the darkest days of the year. The term also suggests not just having good people in your proximity. It also encourages being mindful of the physical beauty of your surroundings: the lights, the pillows, clean lines, open spaces. It’s not too far of a stretch to include chocolate, gin, and cats as part of that, too.
Let’s take them one by one:
According to Magnusson, including gin on the list of the secrets to a long life is as much about taking the time to smell the juniper berries as it is about circling up with friends who have known you through the ages. Gin began its life in the 1600s as a medicinal potion. Flowers, roots, fruits, berries, and other plants can be added, depending on where the gin is distilled and what flavor profile the distiller is seeking. So, full stop, that right there sounds healthy to me.
Listen to a cat purr, feel the vibration of that sound, and without any effort on your part, your parasympathetic nervous system will kick in. You’ll feel a sense of calmness. You’ll naturally relax. Your breaths will become deeper and easier. That’s true if you, like me, experience cats as the perfect animal. I know I’m not alone in my love of cats, and I also know there are many who don’t adore them to the extent that I do. (My understanding of not loving cats is purely academic and stops with the acknowledgment that others don’t always feel the same way I do.) There’s real medicine in lowering your heartrate and, not to overstate it, cats are the answer. Growing up, we named our first cat Bertha, after my Swedish great aunt, so given my ancestry, it’s all coming full circle now.
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao, is repeatedly in the news for its chemical health benefits. Flavanols and antioxidants are the wholesome properties of chocolate that we keep hearing about. The New York Times recently ran an article on a new (equally positive) scientific research study, which you can find here. I’ve also written about the health benefits of chocolate in an earlier post here.
Most of our dark chocolate has a 70% cacao component, which is the sweet spot for those healthy attributes. You can nibble on some Seriously 70 squares or savor some Double Dark hot chocolate purely for the health advantages. Similarly, for almost all of our truffles, caramels, and buttercreams, we use a 70% coverture, so you can feel good about that from a wellbeing point of view, too. If you want to up your chocolate game health-wise, try our Midnight 80 squares which pack even more cacao – a favorite of many of our most dedicated customers. Have you ever considered that putting hot fudge sauce on your ice cream might actually be good for you? You’re welcome.
I can’t get away without including some significant nod to physical activity in this list of healthy life components. And let’s, for heaven’s sake, make those activities fun. Walk in the woods, dance in your living room, sled with the kids, swim with the dolphins. Plant juniper berries and tend to the garden. There are a million ways to find an adventure.
The Secret Revealed
Connecting chocolate’s flavanols and phytonutrients with the Danish and Swedish concepts of how to relax and decompress, I think we may have hit upon the chocolate-y heart of the matter. Taken together, we may now have a better understanding as to why chocolate gets so much good press. We can see why chocolate shows up often under the category of living a long and healthy life. It doesn’t hurt that chocolate tastes like heaven itself. Plus, the burst of endorphins chocolate brings has been said to equal the feeling of falling in love. Not bad, huh?
So the combination of living well and eating well, of pursuing a healthy lifestyle of self-care, of surrounding yourself with the people and things you love, all of those together, could be the secrets to a long life. Then add to that a cat on your lap and a gin and tonic by your side. Throw in a comfy pillow and invite some good friends. Now, we’re really talking the good life. May yours be healthy, cozy, chocolate-y, and long.