The FactsAs well as being utterly delectable, chocolate has been scientifically proven to be good for your health! However, like with all things in life – it’s everything in moderation! Even the purest dark chocolate, despite all the emotional and physiological benefits, needs to be eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. It is recommended that the intake of chocolate should be under 50 grams of high cocoa solid dark chocolate a day – this equates to about one small bar a day.
Chocolate contains minimal levels of both caffeine and theobromine. Theobromine is an alkaloid that is found only in cocoa and chocolate – therefore it has been named after the cocoa tree itself! (Alkaloids are a group of organic compounds made by plants that contain nitrogen). Both have mild stimulating effects on the central nervous system that increases the heart beat and relax the respiratory muscles. However care should be taken with domestic pets as ithe theobromine in chocolate can be toxic for them causing diarrhoea or even death. Research shows that chocolate and cocoa reduces fatigue and improves concentration. Chocolate also contains a high concentration of calories in a small volume - in fact, chocolate was given to World War II soldiers as part of their rations as a source of energy!
Feel Good Factor
Chocolate contains chemical substances know as endorphins which have a stimulating effect on the brain. The endorphin in chocolate is called phenylethamine or PEA. When PEA is released into the blood stream it creates positive energy and feelings that range from happiness to euphoria. PEA can be found naturally in the body and is more prominent when we are happy: for example when we are in love. If that feeling of “love” disappears or if you are feeling “blue” or sad about something, the amount of PEA in your brain reduces. This is one of the reasons why, in these situations, we crave chocolate! The PEA in chocolate replaces the natural endorphins we have lost. It has also been suggested that women are more susceptible to the varying levels of PEA than men.
Vitamins and Minerals
Chocolate contains an abundance of minerals which the body stores and uses when it needs them most. Two of the most commonly found minerals in chocolate are iron and magnesium. According to the UK’s Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods, dark chocolate contains more iron than any other vegetable! Both minerals are believed to be very important for the defence against heart disease and blood disorders. They also help reduce the threat of osteoporosis in later life. Medical researchers have found that magnesium deficiency may contribute to the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Therefore as dark chocolate contains a good source of magnesium, eating it during this time could help alleviate PMS.
All plants, fruit and vegetables contain healthy components called polyphenols. The polyphenols in the cocoa bean have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect the body from the effects of free radicals. These accelerate the aging process and are responsible for the degeneration of certain function. Antioxidants have a positive effect on many aspects of the human body. It has been proven to lower blood pressure and improve the function of the blood vessels – Some doctors state that a square of high percentage dark chocolate every day is the equivalent of taking ½ aspirin – also know to have good cardiovascular effects. Antioxidants may also help strengthen the immune system and protect against certain immune system diseases such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
Recent research has shown that drinking a glass of red wine a day can promote good health as it contains antioxidants. The same is true for Chinese green tea. Premium chocolate has more antioxidants than a glass of red wine and 2 to 3 times more antioxidants than green tea. Research has shown that the slight “bitterness” we taste when drinking green tea or eating a high percentage dark chocolate are attributed with the polyphenols in these products. .
Cocoa and high percentage dark chocolate contain no cholesterol. However, milk chocolate contains a small amount due to the addition of milk fats. Premium chocolate also contains a good percentage of cocoa butter which is high in saturated fats. A 1/3 of cocoa butter comes from stearic acid. Although it is a saturated fat, stearic acid does not raise the bad cholesterol (LDL) as most other saturated fats do. Stearic acid is converted in the liver to oeleic acid which is a heart healthy monounsaturated fat. Another 1/3 of chocolate’s total fat comes from oleic acid itself. In a recent study in America, volunteers followed a diet where the majority of their fat calories came from either chocolate or from normal butter fat. The volunteers who consumed the chocolate fat did not show an increase in their cholesterol levels, but those who ate the normal butter fat developed elevated LDL cholesterol levels.