Perhaps after reading this, you wont have to feel so guilty the next time you eat a piece of chocolate. Despite the fact that it has a seemingly bad reputation for causing weight gain, a number of health benefits have been associated with this delicious treat over the years. Chocolate is perhaps one of the most popular sweet treats in the world. Christmas, Halloween, and Easter wouldn’t be the same without chocolates and the extra flavor that they add to special occasions and the holidays. According to the World Cocoa Foundation, so many people around the globe (but most notably in Europe and the United States) consume over 3 million tons of cocoa beans a year. In today’s upscale restaurants, chocolate always finds its way into the most simple dessert to satisfy the sweetest sweet-tooth, Although eating chocolate can make you feel amazingly good, research has shown that it may also be good for your heart and your brain. The research is part of a growing body of extensive evidence which basically suggests that the bio-active plant compounds found in cocoa beans, called polyphenols, may help to shield the heart against destructive diseases. In regards to brain health, a review published in the May 2017 edition of Frontiers magazine points to some evidence that flavanols (which are found in cocoa beans, dark chocolate, tea, romaine lettuce and grape wine among other foods) may benefit the function of the human brain. Flavanols are a sub-form of flavonoids, which are plant-based substances that have anti-inflammatory and certain powerful antioxidant effects.
So, What is Chocolate?
Chocolate is produced from the fruit of the Theobroma Cacao, which is a tropical tree whose name means “food of the gods” in Greek. Theobroma cacao trees are native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America. These trees are widely distributed from southeastern Mexico stretching out to the Amazon River. The cacao (Theobroma cacao) tree is a member of Sterculiaceae family which falls under a classification of evergreens. The tree produces fruits that are about the size and shape of an American football, and each pod produced from the tree has an average of 45 seeds, and these are commonly called ‘beans’. These beans are what are used to make chocolate products like cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate. Theobroma cacao trees thrive in hot and humid areas that are within 25 degrees of the equator. As the popularity of chocolate spread, growers established plantations in other regions, such as West Africa and South and Southeast Asia. In today’s agricultural world, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil account for over 80 percent of cocao production worldwide.
For over 3500 years the world has indulged in chocolate in its various forms; chocolate bars, candy kisses, hot cocoa, chocolate ice-cream and so on, but did you know that the idea of chocolate as a treat is far from a modern one? The earliest use of chocolate dates way back to the Olmec civilization that occurred in Mesoamerica. In those days of ancient Mesoamerica, chocolate was seen to be a specialty food, and because of that, it achieved a sacred status. In those days, the use of chocolate began with the ancient Olmec civilization (1500 BC-500 BC) in Mesoamerican and the later found its way through the time of the Maya and Aztecs before finally making its trek across to the Old World in the 16th century. After the European discovery of the Americas, chocolate popularity as well as demand, significantly grew. In those days, the way chocolate was served was slightly different from the way it is served today. The warm, liquid form of the chocolate consumed in those days was very different from today’s hot cocoa. It was served with chili powder and other spices which made it a hot and savory treat that was popular among royalty while lay people often enjoyed its healing properties when they were sick.Chocolate has since become a popular food product that millions of people enjoy every day and on special occasion, thanks to its sweet, rich, and unique taste.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
Now that we have spoke about it’s rich history (pun intended) let’s talk about the health benefits of chocolate. There are several advantages associated with eating chocolate regularly, and here are a few:
Good heart food
Some studies have examined the role that chocolate may have on the heart health of human beings. Cacao beans are full of phytonutrients, which usually act as antioxidants and provide additional benefits to the body. Plant foods contain thousands of natural chemicals. “Phyto” refers to the Greek word for “plant”, and therefore foods that have phytonutrients or phytochemicals possess natural chemicals in them and these chemicals helps to protect plants from germs, bugs, fungi, and other seemingly invasive threats. Additionally, cacao beans are rich sources of iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, according to extensive research. Dark chocolate in particular, which has been linked to weight loss also contains two to four times more beneficial flavanols than milk chocolate because milk chocolate’s cacao concentration is diluted with more milk and possibly more sugar. Although most studies have found out that there is some correlation between chocolate consumption and reduced risk of heart problems, the amount and type of chocolate needed requires some further study. Chocolate may also significantly help to prevent the development of atrial fibrillation, which is a type of irregular heartbeat that increases the risk of heart failure, stroke and so much more. A recent study discovered that adults who consistently ate chocolate at least once a month had about 10 to 20 percent lower rates of developing atrial fibrillation than those who rarely ate any chocolate at all.
Good Brain Food
Like I mentioned earlier in the article, chocolate may be good for the brain. Some studies have also focused on chocolate’s ability to improve cognitive function in the human brain. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016 discovered that chocolate consumption might lower the risk of cognitive decline in older people. To achieve credible results, the study analyzed nearly 400 Portuguese citizens who were over the of age 65 and saw that those who ate a moderate amount of chocolate, say on average, one chocolate snack a week experienced a 40 percent decrease in their risk of cognitive decline over the span of two years. What to take note of here though is that these people ate chocolate in moderation, so if you want to start eating chocolate, it might be a good idea to eat it in moderate amounts. Less is more they say.
Good Mood Food
Have you ever read an article in an online magazine or blog that talks about the benefits of chocolate in elevating moods? Chocolate is often associated with positive effects on mood, but the reasons why it makes some people feel good are debatable. Chocolate contains substances that stimulate the brain in the same way cannabis does, such as anandamide and substances that have similar effects as amphetamine, such as tyramine and phenylethylamine, according to the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. However, these substances are in very low concentrations — too low to induce an antidepressant effect.
Key Facts on Chocolate.
- Chocolate is believed to contain very high levels of antioxidants.
- Studies have suggested that chocolate could lower cholesterol levels and prevent memory decline.
- Chocolate contains a large number of calories, so it is best consumed moderately.
So there you have it, eat more chocolate for a healthier you!