Chocolate

Chocolate

The chocolate is produced from the seed of the tropical theobroma cacao tree. Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Mexico, Central America and Southern South America. Its earliest documented use is around 1100 BC. The majority of the Mesoamerican people made chocolate beverages, including the Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl, a word meaning “bitter water”. The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor.

Chocolate has become one of the most popular food types and flavors in the world, and a vast number of foodstuffs involving chocolate have been created, like chocolate chip cookies, which have become very common, and very popular, in most parts of Europe and North America. Gifts of chocolate molded into different shapes have become traditional on certain holidays. Chocolate is also used in cold and hot beverages, to produce chocolate milk and hot chocolate. (See Spiced Hot Chocolate recipe)

Chocolate makes you live longer. Researchers at Harvard University in the U.S. studied 8,000 men for 65 years and found that those who ate modest amounts of chocolate up to three times a month, lived almost a year longer than those who didn’t eat any. They concluded that this is likely to be due to the fact that cocoa contains antioxidants called polyphenols, also found in red wine, which prevent the oxidation of harmful cholesterol. Antioxidants are also known to protect against cancer.

Chocolate is good for stress. This is thought to be because it contains valeric acid, which is a relaxant and tranquilliser. Also, the sugar in chocolate may reduce stress – sugar has been shown to have a calming and pain-relieving effect on babies and animals because sweet tastes activate the opiate-like substances in our brain.

We all know that chocolate makes us feel better. There are a number of scientific reasons for this. The smell of chocolate has been found to slow down brain waves, making us feel calm. Most of the time our brains are dominated by beta waves – normal waking frequency. When our brain activity slows to alpha waves, we experience a pleasant feeling of calm but alert relaxation.

Also, because most of us find eating chocolate so pleasurable, we release endorphins (also released during sex) in the brain. These have similar pharmacological actions as morphine, acting as pain-relievers and giving us a sense of wellbeing.

Chocolate does not give you spots. Although many teenagers blame chocolate for their acne, there’s no scientific data to confirm this link. Scientists at Missouri University even gave spot-prone subjects chocolate to eat and observed their skin for the next week – with no effect.

Nutritionists say that chocolate does not make you put on weight. You can’t blame any single food on weight gain. So long as you don’t eat more calories than you burn off, you won’t get fat.

Chocolate could boost concentration. This can occur, for example, if you eat it mid-afternoon, when blood sugar levels get a bit low. Chocolate has a reasonably low glycaemic index (GI), which means it gives long-lasting energy because it doesn’t raise blood sugar too quickly. For example, a typical bar of chocolate has a GI of 70 compared with 73 for a bowl of cornflakes. This means a chocolate bar will keep you going for longer. Also, chocolate is a good source of chromium, which helps control blood sugar because it is involved in making glucose available in the body.

Chocolate helps us digest milk. This means it is good for those who are lactose-intolerant. Researchers at Rhode Island University have shown that cocoa stimulates activity of the enzyme lactase in the intestine. We need this to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. Lactose-intolerant patients showed a reduction in bloating, cramping and diarrhoea when one-and-a-half teaspoons of cocoa were added to a cup of milk.

Chocolate boosts the appetite. This could be because it contains cannabinoid-like substances that are known to affect the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls hunger. This isn’t ideal if you’re on a diet but, for those who need to put on weight or who are convalescing, chocolate could be just what you need to help get your appetite back.

Chocolate can make you more alert. It contains a stimulant called theobromine, a caffeine-like substance that is thought to make us more alert. But theobromine doesn’t have the side-effect of giving us the jitters, like caffeine, and chocolate contains only minute amounts of caffeine – a mug of coffee has about 85 mg. compared with just 1 mg. in three squares of chocolate.

Chocolate is nutritious. A 50 gr. bar of plain chocolate contains 1.2 mg. of iron, and 45 mg. of magnesium. And milk chocolate is a reasonable source of calcium – a 50 gr. bar contains 110 mg. However, we’d need to eat about seven bars to get the recommended daily allowances of these minerals.

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