Chocolate is shrouded in legend, tradition and social customs. It’s scientific name Theoibroma cacao means ‘Food Of the Gods’ and the Aztecs believed that Quetzalcoatl bequeathed the cocoa plant to humanity. Both the Maya and the Aztecs used cacao beans as a form of money and ground them to make a beverage. In latter days chocolate became a luxury item, reserved only for the gentry in the 18th century, where it could be found in ‘Chocolate Houses’.
These days chocolate is available to all and sundry and the U.S. consumes over a staggering 2 billion pounds annually (That equates to over 11 pounds per person). However, this is rumored to be less than half the amount that the Swiss eat per year and yet obesity is a greater problem in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. This lends weight to the fact that perhaps it is not chocolate that is solely responsible for this statistic.
Chocolate is blamed for a great many things regarding health. Some of this blame is justified, and some of it has been proven inaccurate by modern science.
- When it comes to weight loss issues, and the facts surrounding the amounts of fat and cholesterol unfriendly components in chocolate, there are inconsistencies. It has been frequently implicated in heart disease because it is often listed as a source of saturated fat. Indeed, 25% of the fat in chocolate is palmitic acid which is highly saturated and may have cholesterol-elevating qualities. However, chocolate is a vegetable product and none of the fat contains cholesterol. The other 75% is composed of either oleic acid (mono-unsaturated) or stearic acid (saturated, but not cholesterol elevating). This is good news for chocolate lovers who have a ‘high’ cholesterol count.
- Nutritional composition varies depending upon the type of chocolate. Milk chocolate contains the most calories (147) as compared with bitter chocolate (135). Cooking chocolate contains 143 and cocoa 75, however cooking chocolate has more fat with 15g/oz compared to 11.3 for bitter, 9.2 for milk and 5.4 for cocoa.
- Chocolate is thought to be a substantial source of caffeine and people who have a problem with caffeine often want to avoid it for this reason. Milk chocolate contains 6mg/1oz and cooking chocolate has 35mg/1oz. These figures seem small in comparison to those of coffee and tea however. Percolated coffee, for example, contains a whopping 93-154mg/5oz and canned ice tea 22-36mg/5oz. Therefore, people with caffeine allergies may want to pay more attention to the amounts of tea and coffee they are drinking on a daily basis.
- Addiction to chocolate is often attributed to its caffeine content. This is true to a certain extent, but it is largely down to the presence of chemicals called phenylethylamine and theobromine. Phenylethylamine is known for causing emotional highs and lows associated with mood swings, love, pleasure and indulgence. Theobromine triggers the release of endorphins in the brain and works as a natural anti-depressant. However, these chemicals, although stimulating endorphin and catecholamine release, do not replace and regenerate the chemicals used. In the long run this can lead to eventual lows.
Surprisingly though, it would seem that chocolate can actually offer a health benefit. A One ounce chocolate bar has been found to contain about the same amount of a petrochemical called phenolic acid, as a 5 ounce glass of red wine. The scientific suggestion here is that phenolic substances can act as antioxidants, which may offer some protection from both cancer and antioxidants.
But when you next reach for a chocolate bar and think of this beneficial aspect, keep in mind also the other points that I have raised. Also remember that when we get phytochemicals from chocolate, we are not also getting the benefits of fibre, vitamins and minerals that a piece of fruit would give us. By only snacking on chocolate occasionally you are ensuring that whilst you get the associated highs, you are not overdoing it sufficiently to induce the lows.
Image Source: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Chocolate-51595624
About The Writer: I’m a professional Freelancer writer. A personal fitness coach and the writer of my new blog Your Body Weight