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Health Benefits of Chocolate

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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 vanilla).

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 minerals.

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.

The Asian Connection

Traditionally, Asia has not been known for its high level of chocolate consumption. This isn’t surprising, since the cacao tree is native to the tropical regions of Central and South America (although Filipinos have been able to enjoy their own homemade version of powdered chocolate since the Spanish introduced the cacao tree to the Philippines in the 16th century). However, things are changing. Chocolate consumption in China has increased by forty percent since 1992. And in 1997 Bernard Callebaut, the famous chocolate manufacturer, felt confident enough of Asians' fondness for chocolate to open a factory in Singapore. As a concession to Asian tastes the chocolate is less sweet; it also has a higher melting point.

In 2005, the Beijing Hyatt hosted a chocolate fashion show, where the models were draped in “clothing” made from different types of chocolate (Source: the Asian Times). While chocolate consumption is still much lower in China than in Europe or North America, the market is growing steadily, as the Chinese develop a taste for the sweet treat.

Next Page > Is Chocolate Healthier than Green Tea?

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