Advantages of Eating Chocolate – Health Benefits and History of Chocolate

Chocolate: Endorphin-Releasing Health Enhancer

Chocolate is a rich, delicious product of the cacao tree. Pure chocolate is produced from cocoa beans, which are fermented, roasted, ground and liquefied into chocolate liquor. The liquor is further processed into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. These two components are actually pure, unadulterated chocolate. The chocolate we eat is actually a processed product as it contains sugar, milk and fats.

A Brief History

Health Benefits of Chocolates

The cacao tree has been grown in Central and South America since 1100 BC. Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Maya and the Aztec, made chocolate beverages from cacao beans. The Aztecs called the beverages “xocolatl” which means “bitter water”. According to reliable sources, the word chocolate stems from this Aztec word.

Chocolate was first introduced to the European nations by Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century. The Spanish made this “bitter water” into a delicious concoction by adding ingredients like vanilla and cinnamon.

Today, chocolate is one of the world's most popular flavors. In the west, it is usually consumed in the form of milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Milk chocolate is prepared by mixing milk solids, cocoa butter and sugar. Dark chocolate contains around 15 per cent concentrated chocolate liquor and sugar.

(image source: wikipedia)

The Health Benefits

Besides the rich taste, chocolates are known to be quite healthy. There are, in fact many health benefits of eating chocolate. With a high cocoa content, dark chocolate is a great source of flavonoids, gallic acid, and epicatechin and is thought to be very good for your heart. Here are some other key benefits of dark chocolate:

1. Chocolate may be good for your heart:

Preliminary research studies suggest that chocolate and other cocoa products are beneficial for your circulatory system. A study presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s claimed that eating flavonoid-rich foods, including chocolate, ensured low risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of flavonoids than milk chocolate. However, the manufacturing process chocolate syrups and processed cocoa powder go through removes much of their antioxidants. To experience the rich taste of chocolate in its unadulterated form, you will have to buy cocoa beans or raw, unprocessed cocoa powder.

2. Chocolate lowers LDL cholesterol:

Studies have suggested that eating dark chocolate can reduce bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). An Italian study published in the August 2005 issue of the Hypertension Journal revealed that eating dark chocolate can lower LDL cholesterol levels by 10 per cent. In a study, Pennsylvania State University researchers have also found that people who consumed flavonoid-rich dark chocolate have higher levels of good cholesterol compared with other people in the control group.

3. Eating Chocolate may lower your blood pressure:

One of the key benefits of dark chocolate is healthy blood pressure. Cocoa contains a substance that processes a compound called nitric oxide. This substance helps in maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood flow.

Moreover, the flavonoids in chocolates prevent blood clots as they do not allow fatty substances in the bloodstream to oxidize the arteries.

4. Eating chocolate reduces stress:

Eating a bar of chocolate may lift your mood. Many researchers confirm the anti-depressant qualities of chocolates. A study conducted on 3,000 subjects by the Black Dog Institute found that almost 45 per cent people with depression improved their mood after having chocolate. The main component behind chocolate’s anti-depressant properties is serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Chocolate also stimulates the production of endorphins, which creates a feeling of pleasure. Scientists have found that the endorphins and opoids in chocolates makes people feel less anxious and worried feel more relaxed.

5. Chocolate is rich in Antioxidants:

The high flavonoid content in chocolate, particularly dark chocolate and cocoa powder, can not only control blood pressure levels, but also may protect your body from aging. A study conducted by researchers of the University of Scranton confirms the high antioxidant content in chocolate. Flavonoids (or flavonols) in chocolate acts as antioxidants and fights against free radicals.

Chocolate and Fat

It is presumed that chocolate bars and candies are notorious for having high fat content. But the good news is that some types of fat do not affect your cholesterol. Fat in chocolate is mainly stearic acid, oleic acid and palmitic acid. Of the three, oleic acid is monounsaturated fat whereas stearic acid and palmitic acid are saturated fats. However, some researches show that stearic acid does not impact your cholesterol. While palmitic acid is unhealthy, it is in small enough amounts that it is unlikely to do much damage as long as chocolate is eaten in moderated quantities.

We'd say it's safe and even healthy to enjoy a chocolaty treat every now and then. However, consult your doctor if you have concerns about your diet.

References