Health Happiness and Chocolate

The trouble with chocolate is that it is both potentially good for you and bad for you depending on who you listen to and how much of what kind you consume. Chocolate in one form or another has been around for many hundreds of years dating back in its earliest forms to 1900 BC. The early civilizations of the Mayans and the Aztecs revered the chocolate drink they made for its mood-lifting properties and also felt it to be an aphrodisiac a claim often made today. These early forms of chocolate however resulted from using cacao beans found in central and southern America that were roasted, ground to a paste and mixed with water to form a frothy drink. The naturally bitter taste could be enhanced by adding spices, chili or vanilla. Thus, in this form, unadulterated by modern tastes, the chocolate possessed properties that we now believe promote good health. The beans from which chocolate is made initially, may contain several hundred compounds that are beneficial. Without getting too scientific one of the greatest benefits is that they contain anti-oxidants which can destroy chemicals in the body, known as free radicals, which can cause damage to cell components such as DNA. This damage has been shown to contribute to heart disease, cancer and the overall aging process Obviously the darker or purer the chocolate form the higher the concentration of these anti-oxidants, known as flavonols and flavonoids. Here for many is where the problem lies! The palate of the average consumer tends to lean towards a sweeter diet and therefore the popularity of chocolate in dark form is likely less than milk or white chocolate. Unfortunately, for the health conscious among us the advent of the chocolate bar in 1847 saw the addition of cocoa butter and sugar to the cocoa powder. From this time onwards, various chocolate makers around the world have experimented with different formulas and recipes to introduce us to a myriad of choices but most of them pretty sweet! Most simply put the negative effects of eating chocolate are coming from the ingredients added to the pure cocoa such as sugar, milk, butter and cream. Naturally an over indulgence of the sweeter chocolates may lead to overweight which in itself may result in heart issues such as hypertension and of course diabetes. The high sugar content may also result in a higher risk of gum disease or dental problems such as cavities; no fun for anyone! So, is it all doom and gloom? Well as with all things food related the old adage “everything in moderation” is probably the best advice. If you are one of those people whose sweet tooth prevents them from enjoying a really dark bar of chocolate, then it would be advisable, clearly, to limit your intake of those high calorie, high sugar chocolates that really have little in common with the chocolate of the early Mayans or Aztecs! However, if like a number of people you actually prefer and enjoy the somewhat bitter overtones of a strong, dark chocolate you can be heartened by the fact that that is far less harmful and quite possibly beneficial. In addition to the anti-oxidant properties already mentioned those ancient civilizations seemed to be spot on with their conclusions concerning mood enhancement as the beans are found to contain dopamine, serotonin and phenylethylamine, compounds which all make you feel better! Dark chocolate whilst making you happy can also provide you with a healthy amount of iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, potassium and zinc, all essential minerals. In addition, some studies suggest dark chocolate can reduce the harmful effects of bad cholesterol and may even be able to improve brain function especially in the elderly. All in all, the saying “a little of what you fancy does you good” may hold true for dark chocolate, that is preferably organic and has a 70% or higher cocoa content.

Mayans chocolate