Eating Chocolate is good for you

Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces  Judith Viorst

I saw that quote on twitter yesterday, which I thought was pretty good and remembered this week is chocolate week so if you need another excuse to indulge here it is, eating chocolate is good for you. But (isn't there always a but) before you rush off to the cupboard, fridge or secret place where you stash your treats read on.

Mmmmm Chocolate [274/366]Creative Commons License Tim Sackton via Compfight

Eating Chocolate is good for you

It has unique health enhancing properties and is a valued source of energy.  That applies to chocolate though and does not translate as “anything made with or containing” chocolate. So if you want to bail, I’ll understand.  This is not a license to overindulge!

To get the natural benefit of eating this wonderful food, the closer to its purest form the better, the darker the better. To understand this, the following may help.

Where does it come from?

Theobroma cacao, also known as the cacao or cocoa tree, is a small evergreen tree native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America.  Its seeds are used to make cocoa powder and chocolate.

The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor.

After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted. Next the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs.

The nibs are then ground to cocoa mass, pure chocolate in its rough form. Cocoa mass is usually liquefied and referred to as chocolate liquor. This liquor may be further processed into two parts: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Unsweetened baking chocolate (bitter chocolate) contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions.

Types of Chocolate

Chocolate liquor is blended with the cocoa butter in varying quantities to make different types of chocolate or couvertures. The basic blends of ingredients for the various types of chocolate (in order of highest quantity of cocoa liquor first), are as follows:

Dark chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, and (sometimes) vanilla

Milk chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, milk or milk powder, and vanilla

White chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder, and vanilla

The science bit

Chocolate contains few natural sugars, fibre and a unique combination of other organic compounds which can effect our health.

Cocoa solids contain alkaloids such as theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine. These have physiological effects on the body and are linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.

Phenethylamine is an organic compound and a natural monoamine alkaloid, a trace amine, and also the name of a class of chemicals with many members well known for psychoactive drug and stimulant effects.

Polyphenols are believed to counteract free radicals. Cocoa flavanols, the specific group of polyphenols which are abundantly present in the cocoa bean, have been shown to possess several beneficial effects and play an important role in supporting health and well-being. Cocoa antioxidants help to protect from damage from free radicals before these can cause any harm.

Basic research has provided preliminary evidence that polyphenols in chocolate might inhibit oxidation of “bad” cholesterol, therefore dark chocolate may well lower cholesterol levels.

Furthermore, cocoa flavanols have shown protective effects on several health parameters, such as cardiovascular health, cognitive function and skin quality.

Cocoa or dark chocolate may positively affect the circulatory system, several studies have suggested that eating chocolate can help reduce the risk of certain cardiovascular problems and also reduce blood pressure in both overweight and normal adults.

The Good News

Chocolate is good for you. In moderation, a few squares of high quality chocolate a day will have a positive impact on your mood and your health. It can help you concentrate, think and reason better. It doesn't give you spots, and without added sugar, doesn't damage your teeth. It may also provide relief from PMS! And best of all it tastes fantastic! I had some excellent dark chocolate recently with sea salt, which was delicious.

Do you have a favourite?

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