Chocolate... The #1 food craved by women across North America. And its second only to pizza among men. Some people swear they're addicted to it. In fact, North Americans spend $8.9 billion (US) per year on chocolate and consume nearly 5.5 kg or 12 pounds per person each year. Is chocolate the "food of the gods", an indulgence, or a necessity of life? Read on to find out about the history of chocolate and, most importantly, the benefits of eating chocolate.
The history of chocolate traces its roots back to the Aztecs. During Emperor Montezumas reign, cocoa beans were so valuable that they were used as currency. Cocoa, prepared as a chocolate drink, was believed to impart wisdom, provide great energy and have aphrodisiacal powers.
Chocolate has exceptional nutritional qualities, being a high energy food in a small volume. It not only contains carbohydrates, fats, and vegetable proteins, but also has large quantities of potassium and magnesium, some calcium and sodium, and vitamins A1, B1, B2, D, and E.
Chocolate contains Theobromine, which stimulates the central nervous system, facilitates muscular exertion, acts as a diuretic and appetite stimulant.
Chocolate contains Caffeine, which increases resistance to fatigue, intellectual activity, and watchfulness. An average size chocolate bar contains approximately 6 mg of caffeine, compared to 100- 150 mg in a cup of coffee.
Chocolate contains Phenylethylamine, which is the chemical released in our bodies when we fall in love and is chemically similar to amphetamines, therefore acting as a psycho-stimulant.
Tryptophan, an essential amino acid that increases the production of serotonin, an anti-depressant and natural stress-reducer. In fact, a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain may trigger cravings for starches, sweet foods and chocolate. Chocolate also contains Endorphins, natural opiates that are released by the brain in increased amounts when eating chocolate (and exercising!), thereby elevating one's mood and reducing pain.
Chocolate contains Phenols,which are also found in red wine, tea, fruits and vegetables, and may help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Catechins, which are antioxidants that may help protect the body against cardiovascular disease and possibly cancer, are found in substantially higher quantities in chocolate than in black tea.
Chocolate contains Anandamide, which mimics the effects of marijuana by acting on the same brain receptors, resulting in a very mild "high". Plus, chocolate has two ingredients that inhibit the natural breakdown of anandamide and hence may prolong the feeling of well-being.
Along with a healthy diet, regular exercise and good rest, moderate amounts of chocolate may be the tastiest supplement yet to contribute to a healthy and productive lifestyle. So, feel a little less guilty the next time you give in to that craving!
Submitted by Jared Kramer, University of Massachusetts Amherst Resource: http://www.medscicommunications.com/just_for_fun.htm