Chocolate Naughty but Nice?
White, dark, milky, smooth, velvety, nutty, fruity, what is it about chocolate that we really like? Millions of us indulge ourselves with this desirable product with various occasions dedicated to its enjoyment like Easter, Valentine’s Day or a celebrative event. Another reason we may use for devouring chocolate is the revealed health benefits of eating chocolate. However, do we need additional reasons to consume chocolate and is chocolate really healthy for us?
Why do so many of us crave chocolate?
It has been said that the reason we crave chocolate we are given it has a reward in childhood and it appeals to our sensory receptors. It smells good, it tastes good and it melts in the mouth, turning from a solid sweet into a sensuous liquid on our tongue. And then there are a range of human chemicals that offer feel good sensations as our brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is released whenever you experience a positive emotion such as a burst of laughter or being paid a compliment. These triggers of the pleasurable experiences are stored in our memory and dopamine signals are released whenever we encounter these prompts again. Therefore the smell, taste and feel of chocolate can lead to a mouth-watering anticipation of eating chocolate.
Chocolate comes with benefits
The main ingredient of chocolate is cacao (cocoa) which is derived from Theobroma Cacao beans. Theobromines (food of the gods) can increase heart rate and brings about the feelings of arousal. In addition to the theobromines, cacao also contains phenylethylamine a chemical we create naturally when we’re excited. It causes our pulse rate to quicken, resulting in feelings of excitement. In addition to the mentioned compounds, cacao also contains iron, antioxidants, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium. Magnesium helps to build strong bones and is a muscle relaxant associated with feelings of calmness.
So, is chocolate good for me?
For thousands of years chocolate has been enjoyed as a drink in South America and became popular with Europeans in the 17th century. Due to the cacao’s taste being described as nasty with a bitter, chalky taste the Europeans decided to add butterfat, sugar and milk to transform it to today’s commercial chocolate. Milk contains tryptophan that is converted in brain to serotonin. This brain chemical is associated enhancing mood and promoting sleep. Finally the sugar in chocolate provides a quick energy rush and also helps with the absorption the tryptophan. It’s tempting to swallow chocolate’s supposed benefits, however, the inclusive of the butterfat, milk and sugar to cacao actually dilutes the benefits of the previously mentioned health properties of cacao.
But what about dark chocolate?
Studies have shown that regularly eating of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa may reduce hypertension (high blood pressure) and improve blood flow due to the content of flavanols in dark chocolate. Flavanols are known to stimulate the lining of arteries, and produce Nitric Oxide gas which transmits signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure. This mechanism can also help blood flow to the brain and improve brain function, prevent the build-up of the bad LDL cholesterol and thus reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. This doesn’t give the green light to conquer a dark chocolate mountain. although dark chocolate isn’t loaded with as much sugar and fats as milk chocolate, a 100g bar can still contain up to 600 calories. In order to burn this energy, a 50-year-old chocolate lover would need to briskly walk for 45–55 minutes.
Take Home Message
There is no such thing as healthy commercial chocolate due to the amount of sugar and fat they contain. If you are eating chocolate for the perceived health benefits, there are plant-base foods (beans, pulses, fruit and vegetables) which you can obtain the previously mentioned nutrients without the extras. If you are eating chocolate as a celebration or just the delicious taste, try to eat it in moderation. If you eating chocolate as a means of feeling good, it can be difficult to control how much you eat. Instead, try to obtain pleasurable feelings in other activities or hobbies.
Dark chocolate has been widely praised for its antioxidant potential, improving, cognitive function and reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems. In addition, it generally contains less sugar, with more cocoa solids and cocoa butter than milk chocolate, but the amount of flavonoids depends on how the chocolate is processed, so it’s not always necessarily better. During the manufacturing process additional ingredients such as emulsifiers and sugars can almost completely remove flavonoids from the dark chocolate.
Enjoy your chocolate for whatever reason you eat it, but remember too much chocolate is naughty but nice and it will make your clothes shrink!