Ah February! The Month of Love! What does Valentine's Day make us think of? Yes... chocolate. And why is chocolate so alluring.. so addictive..? Its dark creamy smooth texture, its scent.. its various forms and fittings into so many foods and celebrations of our lives.. Why does chocolate mean "I love you" when presented to a lover, friend, or family member...?
Chocolate eating is associated with the release of dopamine, a feel good neurotransmitter in the brain, as are other tasty foods, particularly those laden with fat and sugar. The consumption of chocolate has also been linked to the release of enkephalin, an endorphin-like substance in the brain, also contributing to a "high."
We are also aware of the positive benefits of eating chocolate. In an article from Healthline, various studies have proven that dark chocolate has many positive health effects (in addition to the release of feel-good neurotransmitters and endorphin-like substances). It contains a healthy dose of iron, magnesium, and other essential minerals that the body needs. It is filled with antioxidants - more than blueberries and acai berries... It can improve brain function with improved blood flow to the brain. It is good for the heart, improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, increases "good" cholesterol while lowering "bad" cholesterol. And it may also protect your skin from the sun. So we should be living on a diet rich in chocolate, right?! Wrong! - This is dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content that we are talking about - that means reduce sugar and fat infused into typical "milk chocolate," and consume in small doses.
And with the increases in brain functioning and healthy minerals we would think it would be great for our kids to consume daily... but do kids like dark or bittersweet chocolate? Some do, but we would agree that most prefer the more common forms of over the counter grocery store chocolate in its various forms: M&Ms, Hershey bars, Kit Kats, and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, to name just a few.. And these candies are high in emulsifiers, sugars, and additives - actually containing very low amounts of pure cocoa per the amount calories provided in an average 230 calorie unit of the candy.
So how about we focus on feel good ways to celebrate with our kids or ourselves that don't involve chocolate (gasp!), large amounts of sugar, or even food in general..?
Here are my personal 4 Things You Should Do Every Day to Take Care of Your Heart:
1. Laugh Hard Every Day
Interestingly enough there are similarities to eating dark chocolate and laughing. Both release feel good neurotransmitters in the brain; laughter also releases endorphins. Laughter is good for the heart, but while eating chocolate adds calories, laughter burns calories. So maybe it's good to have a dose of both.. Laughter is also socially connective, it's contagious and forms social bonds. It is a central part of relationships. Countless people, including medical practitioners truly believe that Laughter is the Best of Medicine. Laugh with your child every day. Life is good. This is why this is #1 on my list.
2. Think About Something Important To Be the Best Version of Yourself
First of all, define what is important to you. Is it spending time in nature, with friends and family, being the best parent you can be, exercising, doing acts of service, engaging in learning..? What do you feel makes you the best version of yourself? Spend some time thinking about it and write down your thoughts. Take the time to explore your options. Talk to people about them. Figure out your goals and do them. And that is the hard part - how to keep on track with your goals, how to remain accountable to yourself and keep moving forward to shape yourself to be the best version of yourself.. January is over, new year's (new decade) resolutions are over.. My suggestion is to connect with others, through your goals. If it's exercising, doing acts of service, or learning something new, find others who are engaged in the same or similar things. Join a class, sign up to volunteer in a group project, seek out a meeting forum based upon your goals. Talk to people about your goals. You may be surprised at how many people are thinking of doing the same thing as you and how inspiring it is to talk about these things with friends and join a group. In the process of becoming the best version of yourself you may just find yourself with new friends, not to mention new and exciting experiences. Speak with your child about goal setting and share with her/him about your journey of becoming the best version of yourself.
3. Be Kind to Somebody
I think I've already alluded to this in my last suggestion - as considering doing acts of service, which could be as big as choosing to work in a helping profession to becoming a full time volunteer. It can also mean simply holding the door open for someone - or exchanging a smile with a passerby on the street, asking how your grocery clerk's day is going, thanking someone for something they did a while ago... Completing acts of kindness makes us feel good - so now there's chocolate, laughter, accomplishing goals, and now acts of kindness - which can help us to live longer - creating physiological effects such as boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, and yes, releasing those feel-good neurotransmitters. Perhaps one of the best effects of acts of kindness towards others is that it's a connective action - kindness connects people. Being positively connected with others has countless benefits for our hearts.
I believe that the act of crying is good for our hearts because it allows us to love ourselves. It also relieves stress, gives us a lift - after moments or days of feeling down, troubled, and is another thing that releases endorphins and also oxytocin, a hormone that is released during touch and contributes to feelings of well-being - and love. Crying can be connective - many people want to connect with and support someone around them who is in tears. A crying child is often asking to be loved through the act of shedding tears. Comforting a crying child, other family member, or even a stranger releases oxytocin in both parties and connects the two people.
And here are a couple more (mostly) non-chocolate ways to celebrate Valentines with your kid:
Since many schools have banned the sharing of sugary treats during typically candy laden holidays, here are some great ideas for handmade valentine's to make with your child on Pinterest
If you and your child love making treats in the kitchen together, here are some heart smart treat ideas to celebrate the month of Love together.
Written by Christopher Libby
Founder/CEO Healthy Organic Kids