“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
— Charles M. Schulz
By Alex P. Vidal
IS too much chocolate-eating dangerous to our health?
Can it cause diabetes and obesity as feared?
Over-eating of chocolate can be tantamount to slow motion suicide, although it contains health benefits if we eat moderately.
Some of the health benefits of chocolate are:
–Cacao, the source of chocolate, contains antibacterial agents that fight tooth decay. However, chocolate with high sugar content will negate this benefit, according to Cocosymposium. Dark chocolate contains significantly higher amounts of cacao and lower amounts of sugar than white chocolate, making it more healthful.
–The smell of chocolate may increase theta brain waves, resulting in relaxation.
–Chocolate contains phenyl ethylamine, a mild mood elevator.
–The cocoa butter in chocolate contains oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fat which can raise good cholesterol.
–Men who eat chocolate regularly live on average one year longer than those who don’t.
–The flavanoids in chocolate help keep blood vessels elastic.
–Chocolate increases antioxidant levels in the blood.
–The carbohydrates in chocolate raise serotonin levels in the brain, resulting in a sense of well-being.
The health risks of chocolate are:
–Chocolate may contribute to lower bone density.
–Chocolate can trigger headaches in migraine sufferers.
–Milk chocolate is high in calories, saturated fat and sugar.
–Chocolate is a danger to pets (chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine, which animals are unable to digest).
Christmas is a time for eating chocolate.
Consumption has come a long way since the first “eating” chocolate was introduced in England by the Bristol firm of Fry and Sons in 1847.
Much debate and mythology surround people’s craving for this confection, which has been blamed on depression, the menstrual cycle, sensory gratification, or some of the 300 plus chemicals that it contains.
The sensuous properties of chocolate depend on the fat it contains.
Roger Highfield explains in The Physics of Christmas that
Cocoa butter can solidify in half a dozen different forms, each of which has a different effect on “mouthfeel” and palatability.
Form V predominates in the best chocolate, making it glossy and melt in the mouth.
Unlike other plant edible fats, which are usually oils, Highfiled explains that cocoa butter is enriched in saturated fatty acids so that it is solid under normal conditions and has a sharp melting point of around 34C, just below the temperature.
Heat is absorbed when this occurs, giving a sensation of coolness on the tongue.
“Another reason we like chocolate is the stimulatory effects of caffeine and related chemicals. Every 100 grams of chocolates contain 5 milligrams of methylxanthine and 160 milligrams of theobromine (named after the cocoa tree, whose botanical name, Theobroma cocoa, means “food of the gods”). Both are caffeinelike substances,” Highfield points out.
Originally, chocolate was a stimulating drink. The name is derived from the Aztec word xocalatl, meaning “bitter water.”
In the 17th century a physician from Peru wrote how it is “good for soldiers who are on guard.”
Highfield stresses that indeed, some people have suggested that it was Casanova’s favorite bedtime drink—to give him a boost when he needed it.
Medical textbooks do note, however, that when taken in large quantities, these stimulants can induce nausea and vomiting.
This effect can also be observed in children (and others) who of overindulge on Christmas Day.
He cites that every 100 grams of chocolate also contains 660 milligrams of phenylethylamine, a chemical relative of amphetamines, which has been shown to produce a feeling of well-being and alertness.
“This may be why some people binge on the stuff after an upsetting experience—or perhaps to cope with the stress of Christmas shopping,” Highfield theorizes.
He also observes the following:
-Phenylethylamine may trigger the release of dopamine, a messenger chemical in the brain that plays a role in the “reward pathway” that governs our urge to eat or have sex.
-Phenylethylamine raises blood pressure and heart rate, and heightens sensation and blood glucose levels, leading to the suggestion that chocoholics “self-medicate” because they have a faulty mechanism for controlling the body’s level of the substance.
However, if a person consumes too much phenylethylamine or has an inability to remove it due to the lack of a key enzyme (monoamine oxidase), blood vessels in the brain constrict, causing a migraine, according to Highfield.
More recently, it has been found that chocolate also contains substances that can act like cannabis on the brain, intensifying its other pleasurable effects.
Highfield says three substances from the N-acylethanolamine group of chemicals can mimic the euphoric effects of cannabis, according to a study by Daniele Piomelli, Emmanuelle di Tomaso, and Massimiliano Beltramo of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego.
Their works date back in 1990, when scientists found a site in the brain that responds to cannabinoids, the class of compounds that include the active ingredient in cannabis.
Recently they have discovered the specific substances in the brain that bind to this site. One is a fatty molecule dubbed anandamide after the Sanskrit word for “bliss.”
Piomelli investigated chocolate, which is rich in fat, because he correctly suspected that it might contain lipids related to anandamide.
Piomelli was first inspired to look into the mood-altering effects of chocolate when he became addicted to the stuff one gray winter in Paris.Now that he has moved to California, which is as sunny as his homeland of Italy, he is no longer a chocoholic.