There’s no denying the fact that chocolate makes us feel good. Few foods evoke the pleasure that we feel from eating this savory and seductive food. Research supports the fact that chocolate evokes craving in a way that other sugary foods don’t. It seems to have a quality of it’s own that beckons us to indulge.
Chocolate actually contains over 300 chemicals and scientists don’t know how all of these affect humans. One chemical that we know affects us is phenylethylamine, often referred to as “chocolate amphetamine”. This is a neurotransmitter that helps promote feelings of attraction, excitement and giddiness. It stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers. No wonder we like it! Another chemical is theobromine which serves to relax smooth muscle. It is the reason we shouldn’t give chocolate to animals because they lack the ability to metabolize theobromine properly and it becomes lethal in their systems. It’s fairly common knowledge that chocolate contains magnesium and iron. All of these substances that make up chocolate are present in small amounts and in varying amounts, leading some scientists to doubt the validity that it affects us at all.
One undeniable fact about chocolate that is supported by research is that chocolate contains flavanoids which are chemicals that thin the blood therefore helping to prevent clotting; much in the way red wine does. Does this mean that chocolate is health food? I doubt it. The reason being that chocolate is loaded with sugar and saturated fat to make it taste like what we recognize as chocolate. Unadulterated chocolate is quite bitter tasting. There’s also the dark chocolate versus milk chocolate debate. Milk chocolate is not good for you – plain and simple. The milk seems to nullify any goodness that chocolate has to offer. This is true even if you eat dark chocolate and drink milk along with it. Science tends to muddy the water when it comes to food that’s good for you.
Chocolate does seem to have come full circle. Thousands of years ago it was touted for its medicinal qualities and now here it is again. Note though, that most of the modern research on chocolate is done with dark chocolate with a high cocoa content that is often not very sweet tasting. Also of note, most of the research is funded by Mars and Nestlé’s – companies whose bottom lines depend on chocolate consumption. Some independent research done at Harvard University suggests that if you eat chocolate three times a month you will live almost a year longer than people who refrain. The same research suggests that if you eat too much chocolate, you will have a lower life expectancy. So, what’s the bottom line here? It’s that word that keeps coming up in relation to any food – moderation. And when you do indulge, make it dark chocolate.