The returning crew of Columbus’ fourth voyage in 1502 brought the first cocoa beans from the New World to Europe. Since then chocolate has become a worldwide favorite. The chocolate bar was first invented in 1910. It captured the public’s imagination when it was issued to the U.S. armed forces as “fighting food” during WW2. Although it’s aphrodisiac qualities have been debunked, chocolate is an endless temptation for most of us. It is low in calories and fat, but most chocolates contain refined sugar and milk.
A ton of research over the last decade has explored the potential health benefits of chocolate. A new review of the literature on chocolate out of the University of Mississippi Medical Center reveals that dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that bring on feelings of pleasure. It also boosts levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which acts as an antidepressant. In addition it is high in flavonoids that assist in fighting inflammation, bacteria, viruses, fungus and free radicals. In fact, chocolate has more than double the amount of flavonoids than apples and red wine. Chocolate was also shown to help lower high blood pressure, due to it’s antioxidant effects.
An additional benefit of chocolate was identified in a 2008 Australian study. As well as providing flavanols they have the effect of increasing the body’s nitric oxide production. Nitric Oxide (NO) keeps blood vessels dilated and generally promotes a healthy blood flow. This allow for a constant and unrestricted flow of blood to the muscle cell. The resultant health benefits include enhanced energy levels, improved sexual performance (improved NO output helps with erectile dysfunction) and blood distribution around the body. Dark chocolate was seen to be especially beneficial in promoting blood vessel health.
The good news, then, is that chocolate (the darker the better) is one of those rare foods that not only tastes great – but is good for you. Just be careful not to over indulge. After all, it still contains a heap of sugar. Many commercial chocolates contain milk fat that is highly saturated and high amounts of sugar – stay away from them!
Again, though, dark chocolate – really dark chocolate – is lower in sugar than milk chocolate. Always choose dark chocolate.
Chocolate is also rich in PEA, which can trigger headaches in some people, be careful.
Chocolate Storage Tips:
- Keep chocolate tightly sealed in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks
- Do not place chocolate in the refrigerator; this causes blooming, or separation of cocoa butter from the chocolate.
Journal Clinical Hypertension, published online December 13, 2013
International Journal of Obesity, published online May 27, 2008