Chocolate is one of the most luxurious and craved foods in the world. A true chocaholic knows that just the mention of chocolate will evoke pleasurable thoughts.
The average American consumes 11.5 pounds of chocolate per year, whereas the Swiss consume twice this amount. According to www.onhealth.com, 40 percent of women and 15 percent of men admit to regular chocolate cravings.
Who says that something that tastes so good is bad for your health? In fact, studies have shown that chocolate can actually have positive effects. So grab a bar of chocolate, read this article and realize you’re doing something good for your body.
Chocolate is derived from the cocoa tree threobroma cacao, which is native to Central and South America. Today, these beans are cultivated around the equator and can be found in the Caribbean, Africa, Southeast Asia and even in the Pacific islands of Samoa and New Guinea.
At the time, cocoa beans were used as the local currency and they were recognized as among the many treasures stolen from the Aztecs. When the Spaniards took the chocolate back to Europe, they used it as a drink. This drink was a luxury not many could afford.
Afterward, when the Spaniards monopolized chocolate, the French, English and Dutch began to cultivate chocolate as well. Increased production reduced the prices of cocoa and soon the masses in Europe and America were enjoying what once was considered a delicacy. In 1828, chocolate maker Conrad J. van Houten patented an inexpensive way of pulverizing the beans into powder, which later facilitated making chocolate drinks and solids as well.
Let’s now dispel some myths about chocolate. Here’s a list of the ingredients in chocolate: minerals, caffeine, saturated fat, threobromine, phenylethlamine, anandamide, sugar and flavonols. Explaining these components individually will further our understanding of chocolate.
Minerals such as copper and magnesium are present in chocolate. Of course, people need these every day. The amount of caffeine in chocolate is insignificant comparable to the amount in a cup of decaffeinated coffee. There are about 10 milligrams of caffeine per average 1.65-ounce bar, compared with about 80 milligrams in a cup of coffee. One would have to be extremely sensitive to caffeine to fear eating a feeble chocolate bar.
People often worry about saturated fat because it clogs arteries, restricts blood flow to the heart and causes heart attacks. About one-third of dark chocolate is naturally-produced cocoa butter, which is a form of saturated fat.
However, medical researchers have found that not all saturated fats are the same and that cocoa butter does not raise cholesterol levels in the body. As a matter of fact, one report even points out that “”exaggerated consumption”” will actually lower cholesterol. That is to say, much of the cocoa butter consumed is not absorbed as it passes through our bodies.
According to a report by www.onhealth.com, chocolate may actually raise the good form of cholesterol, HDL, and reduce a bad form of fat, triglycerides, due to the high content of stearic acid in the cocoa butter.
Now consider threobromine, defined as a bitter, volatile alkaloid resembling caffeine in its chemical structure, but with a mild effect on humans. Horses and dogs are very sensitive to threobromine, and that is why chocolate can be harmful to them.
Phenylethylamine is an amphetamine-like psychoactive drug with an effect that is said to resemble that of ecstasy, the feeling of being in love. There is phenylethylamine in chocolate, but there is a far richer source of it in salami. There are no reports of the feeling of falling in love after salami, so chocolate cannot be blamed for mimicking false amorous feelings.
Another drug present in chocolate is anandamide, which is a naturally-occurring chemical in our brains that mimics the effects of eating or smoking marijuana. However, to fully have that effect, one must consume at least 20-30 pounds of chocolate in one sitting. That’s twice as much chocolate as the average American eats in a year.
The sugar in chocolate is usually table sugar, which isn’t as bad as the high fructose corn syrup that sweetens almost everything else in our grocery stores.
Besides that, cocoa is packed full of a surprising number of antioxidants, compounds that can protect living tissue from chemical damage. Chocolate contains the same level of the antioxidant, flavonol, found in a glass of red wine.
There are other antioxidants that are vital to the body. Catechin helps to fight cardiovascular disease and cancer. There are four times the levels of catechins in chocolate than in black tea. In addition, procyanidins have the ability to relax blood vessels, possibly decreasing internal arterial wall damage.
There are many myths that associate chocolate with acne, migraine headaches and tooth decay. Two studies done by the Pennsylvania School of Medicine and U.S. Naval Academy show that eating chocolate does not produce any significant changes in acne conditions.
These results are further backed by research that shows that acne is not primarily linked to diet. Though it does contain some tyramine, a common migraine trigger, a well-controlled 1997 study from the University of Pittsburgh did not link chocolate consumption with headaches. As for studies that say chocolate causes cavities or tooth decay, there are indications that the cocoa butter in the chocolate coats the teeth and may help protect them by preventing plaque from forming. The sugar in chocolate is the only thing that contributes to cavities.
Before stocking up on chocolate, realize that there are downsides. Chocolate can increase stomach acid reflux and irritable bowel symptoms, as well as cause allergic reactions, weight gain and dental cavities. However, that’s only when eaten in excess.
This Valentine’s Day, don’t stash away all that chocolate. Realize that chocolate can be good for you, too!