Is Chocolate a Sin or a Healthy Food?
“All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!”
— Lucy Van Pelt in Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
In any given year Americans consume over 3 billion pounds of chocolate.
Why are we all so in love with chocolate? Yes, it tastes great, feels wonderful on the tongue, is sweet, creamy, and is associated with treats, deserts, and pleasurable occasions. But is there something about chocolate that actually creates an elevation of mood and sense of sensual well-being? Is it good for us in some way?
Research seems to show it is.
There have been many studies linking cocoa and dark chocolate with health benefits. And purer chocolate is best; those brands that boast a cocoa content of more than 50% contain a large amount of antioxidants (flavonoids), and are high in potassium, calcium and magnesium, iron, and vitamins A, B, (particularly B1 and B2), C, D and E.
Chocolate also contains phenyl ethylamine (PEA), which may act on the body in a similar way to falling in love. The ancient Aztecs always claimed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, and they may have been right!
Cocoa and dark chocolate may play a part in preventing stroke and heart disease, by reducing high blood pressure and blood clotting. One Italian study showed that a 20 gram square of dark chocolate, taken every three days, can result in benefits to the cardiovascular system.
The actual ingredients of chocolate are:
1) Fat: The fat in chocolate is primarily two saturated fats (stearic and palmitic acid) and oleic acid, which is mono-unsaturated. Milk chocolate is higher in fat than dark chocolate, due to the dairy content.
2) Sugar: The cacao bean is mostly starches and fibers, with a very small percentage of sugar. Simple sugars are added by the chocolate manufacturers.
3) Theobromine: This is a weak stimulant, and is the chemical which makes chocolate dangerous to animals like cats and dogs.
4) Antioxidants: Polyphenols, such as those found in red wine, are one of the healthy benefits of chocolate.
5) Minerals: Iron, zinc, copper, potassium, manganese, and larger amounts of calcium and magnesium.
6) Vitamins: A, B vitamins, C, and E.
7) Caffeine: Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine, although much less than tea, coffee or soft drinks such as Coca-Cola.
8) PEA: Phenylethylamine: Phenylethylamine is considered a mild stimulant and antidepressant. Its action resembles dopamine and adrenaline, natural neurotransmitter chemicals produced in the brain.
9) Serotonin: Chocolate has been found to increase brain levels of serotonin, which is involved in mood. People diagnosed with depression often have reduced levels of serotonin.
So, the bottom line is: although you must watch out for the high calories of chocolate, due to its fat and sugar, choosing high quality dark chocolate, and practicing moderation, can mean you get to revel in the wonder of chocolate and not feel sinful!
“Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine.”
Geronimo Piperni, quoted by Antonio Lavedán, Spanish army surgeon, 1796
1) Di Giuseppe R, di Castelnuovo A, Centritto F, et al. Regular consumption of dark chocolate is associated with low serum concentrations of C-reactive protein in a healthy Italian population. J Nutr 2008; 138: 1939-1945.
© 2016 Lucho Crisalle, CEO, Exercise & Nutrition Works, Inc.
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