Eating chocolate just makes us feel good.
These days it would be hard to find a child or adult who can say they don't like chocolate. The estimated revenues of the chocolate industry are in excess of 83.2 billion dollars. Is it the taste, or something inside the chocolate, well this is what we know. Chocolate contains more than 500 natural chemical compounds, some of which have been categorized as mood-elevating and pleasure-inducing. Which may explain why back in the 1940's and 1950's, gentlemen often brought their dates chocolates and flowers. Studies have proven that chocolate compounds have some amazing effects on the brain.
The Swiss sweetened and fattened it by adding refined sugar and milk, two ingredients unknown to the people in central America. In the 18th century, mechanical mills were created that squeezed out cocoa butter, which in turn helped to create hard, durable chocolate. In the 19th century, England, John Cadbury developed an emulsification process to make solid chocolate creating the modern chocolate bar. Although cocoa is originally from the Americas, today Western Africa produces almost two-thirds of the world's cocoa. Chocolate is one of nature's most concentrated sources of theobromine, a mild, natural stimulant and molecular "cousin" of caffeine. However, unlike its cousin, theobromine does not strongly stimulate the central nervous system, nor does it have the same "eye-opening" power. Theobromine has also been shown to reduce coughing and has been used in "natural" cough medicine preparations as a cough suppressant.
FYI the level of theobromine found to be effective in clinical trials is roughly 5 times higher than what is found in a typical bar of dark chocolate. While safe for humans, other species, such as dogs, lack the specific enzyme that metabolizes theobromine so eating chocolate can cause them to become overstimulated. Don't ever give animals chocolate. Chocolate also contains relatively small amounts of caffeine, about as much as a cup of decaffeinated coffee. A 1.5 ounce milk chocolate bar has 11 mg of caffeine, while a similar-sized dark chocolate bar has 27 mg of caffeine. In contrast, a 12-ounce mug of coffee has 200 mg. Phenylethylamine (PEA), this compound may be responsible for some of the pleasurable feelings you get after eating chocolate because it releases natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins in your brain. Science say's PEA is also released by the brain when people are falling in love. Perhaps this could explain why chocolate and Valentines Day are so closely linked . Despite its sweet reputation, chocolate has a low glycemic index, which is the measure of a food's impact on blood sugar levels. This means that eating chocolate, unlike other candies or sweet foods, will not cause your blood sugar to dramatically spike and then crash. Chocolate's low glycemic index is not, the only good news for people who must watch their blood sugar. The flavanols, plant-based antioxidants in dark chocolate and cocoa may aid in circulation, possibly improving your cell's sensitivity to insulin and glucose. In study after study when flavanol-rich dark chocolate was given to participants, researchers see lower blood sugar levels than before the study. Now of course the rules of moderation apply, because diet and weight control for people at risk for diabetes is especially important. People with diabetes should consult their physician to determine an appropriate amount of dark chocolate and cocoa in their diet. So chocolate is packed with natural compounds called antioxidants that scientists have discovered can protect your body and promote good health. In fact, ounce for ounce, dark chocolate and cocoa have more antioxidants than do foods like blueberries, green tea and red wine.
Surprised? Many people are. That's because they forget that chocolate is a plant-based food. Scientists theorize that plants naturally produce antioxidants to help them survive harsh growing conditions and to protect them from environmental stress. These same compounds it seems can aid the humans who eat these plants. The health benefits of high-antioxidant foods have recently taken the scientific world by storm. New studies suggest that the antioxidants in foods may reduce the risk of many kinds of illness, from heart disease to cancer. Antioxidants like those found in dark chocolate and cocoa have also been linked to cardiovascular health such as enhanced blood flow, healthy cholesterol levels and, in some cases, reduced blood pressure. Two tablespoons of natural cocoa have more antioxidant capacity than four cups of green tea, 1 cup of blueberries and one and half glasses of red wine. Looks like 30 minutes after eating one 40 gram serving of dark chocolate blood levels of the two main antioxidants in chocolate, epicatechin and catechin, are heightened. They peak two hours after consumption and are cleared from the body after about six hours. Antioxidants work by protecting your cells from damaging molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are basically unstable oxygen molecules that can trigger changes in the structure of normally healthy cells. This damage is thought to be an underlying cause of many chronic inflammation based diseases. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals.
Some free radicals arise normally during metabolism. Sometimes the body's immune system cells purposefully create them to neutralize viruses and bacteria. However, environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, herbicides, pesticides and stress can also spawn free radicals. Free radicals are a common by-product of life, but as we get older the natural antioxidants our body makes to fight them off begin to decline. So the best way to recharge your antioxidant power is to get them in your diet. The kinds of antioxidants found in chocolate are called polyphenols, a large class of molecules found in fruits and leafy vegetables, coconut, beans, nut's and berries. Dark chocolate and cocoa are particularly high in a sub-class of those compounds called flavanols, which are also found in red grapes and tea, hence the well-known benefits of red wine and green tea. The reason dark chocolate and cocoa rank so high is that their antioxidants are very concentrated. Now, it seems that researchers, unlike the rest of us, aren't too interested in what topically applying cooca powder or chocolate will do for your skin that, or they gobble up the chocolate powder before they could test it, but if you're like me and never really grew up, you still can't pass up the chance to play with your food. With all those antioxidants, a chocolate bath has got to be a winner in my mind. Though I'm sure more "research" is needed.
The flavanols in dark chocolate and cocoa are key to heart health because they share an electron with free radicals and calm them down so to speak. Flavanols have also been shown to stimulate the production of nitric oxide, a key gas inside artery walls that relaxes and widens arteries, allowing for the easy flow of blood and reduced blood pressure. It's the role these flavanols play in promoting heart health that has got everyones attention. Studies showing that moderate consumption of red wine and tea can lead to a reduced risk of heart disease, lead Dutch researchers to test the power of chocolate and cocoa, which contains similar flavanol antioxidants. The results, published in 2006, were overwhelming. The researchers divided a group of 470 elderly men according to how much cocoa-containing food they consumed and tracked them over 15 years. The men who consumed the most cocoa-containing products, the researchers discovered, were half as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as those who consumed the least. In addition, they were half as likely to die from any cause, as those who ate the least cocoa-or chocolate-containing foods. The researchers suspect that the longevity and reduced cardiovascular risk may be associated with a slight, yet sustained, lower blood pressure, and vascular inflammation in those consuming cocoa and chocolate.
Translation: Say "Dark, please," when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don't even think of washing it down with milk, if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, and remember the word "moderate" as you nibble. Just remember to balance the calories. A 100-gram serving of an average 70% cacao dark chocolate bar has 531 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By contrast if you ate 100gr. of apple you'd only take in 52 calories. Don't replace healthy foods with chocolate, just augment your diet a little. Today most people's diets have plenty of plain sugar sweets. Switch some of that sugar for some dark chocolate and enjoy the delicious taste and health benefits. Good Luck...
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