Sunday, September 6, 2009


Mmm...chocolate. The product of the cacao tree has been winning fans
since Aztec leader Montezuma introduced the beverage (chocolate candy
as we know it didn't appear until the 1800's) to the Spanish
conqueror Cortez, who subsequently took it home to Spain. (While the
original drink was rather bitter, the Spanish made a few creative
innovations - using sugar instead of chilies, and adding cinnamon and

What is it that makes chocolate so irresistible? A large part of
chocolate's allure, of course, lies in the taste - a deliciously rich
concoction that satisfies the most intense craving. But several
chemical reactions are also at work. For one thing, chocolate
stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasureable
sensation similar to the "runner's high" a jogger feels after running
several miles.

Chocolate also contains a neurotransmitter, serotonin, that acts as
an anti-depressant. Other substances, such as theobromine and
phenylethylamine, have a stimulating effect. However, the truth is
that scientists are still not positive how the over three-hundred
chemicals contained in chocolate make us feel so good.

Harmful Effects?

With so much going for it, it's unfortunate that chocolate has
developed a bad reputation on the health front. Confirmed
chocoholics often worry that indulging their craving will lead to
everything from rotting teeth to acne, not to mention the need to
lose a few pounds.

Fortunately, scientists are beginning to disprove some common myths
about the dangers of eating too much chocolate. For example, it is
not true that eating chocolate can cause acne or make it worse. Nor
is chocolate the threat to healthy teeth that it was once thought to
be. While both cocoa and chocolate contain sugar, they also have
properties that work against sugar's tendency to produce the oral
bacteria that eventually leads to dental decay. In fact, researchers
at the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, New York, have concluded
that milk chocolate is one of the snack foods that is least likely to
contribute to tooth decay, since it contains phosphate and other

Furthermore, while chocolate may not be the most healthy snack
around, it does contain a number of nutrients. High in potassium and
magnesium, chocolate also provides us with several vitamins -
including B1, B2, D, and E. As for calories, no one is going to
claim chocolate is the quintessential diet food. Still, the average
chocolate bar contains approximately 250 calories - low enough for a
dieter to enjoy one as an occasional treat. Besides, indulging your
chocolate craving from time to time can help prevent the bingeing
that is a dieter's worst enemy.

Chocolate Tips
* Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Studies based on dark
chocolate tend to show benefits that milk chocolate does not.
* Partner your chocolate with nutrient-rich foods, like chocolate
covered strawberries, apple slices or bananas. Add a few chocolate
chips in your berry-nut trail mix. Try a refreshing glass of
chocolate-flavored milk or soymilk.
* Buy smaller sizes of chocolate bars or hot fudge sundaes, since
research shows you tend to eat the entire amount you are served.
* Order fruit for dessert, with a small chocolate truffle on the side.
* Savor, don't chew, your chocolate. Sit down, take your time, and
focus on the taste in your mouth. Enjoy it thoroughly. If you pop it
in your mouth while you are driving, watching TV, or talking on the
phone, you?re likely to keep reaching for more.
* Give in to your chocolate cravings! Every try to stifle a craving
by eating something else? You usually just end up eating more and
more foods, eventually giving in to your original desire anyway. Save
yourself the calories and the torment! A small portion may be all you
need for satisfaction.