One of my absolute favourite foods - if not for energy, for just plain ole pleasure!!!
The Good News About Chocolate
Chocolate is one of the most popular foods in the world, long enjoyed for its wonderful taste. The cocoa butter in chocolate is unique because it melts at mouth temperature, slowly releasing rich chocolate flavor during eating. In addition to its savored taste, researchers are discovering new information about this cherished treat.
This paper discusses recent research on the potential benefits of chocolate, gives some insight into why we crave it, and dispels some common myths surrounding this small "indulgence."
Another Role for Chocolate in Our Diet
Researchers are discovering more and more attributes of chocolate in addition to its savored taste. In 1993, researchers at The Pennsylvania State University ¹ concluded that stearic acid, the main saturated fatty acid in chocolate, does not raise blood cholesterol levels. These researchers also reported ² that a 1.4 ounce chocolate bar eaten in place of a high carbohydrate snack does not raise LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) levels and increases HDL-cholesterol (the good cholesterol) levels.
In addition to its neutral affect on blood cholesterol levels, recent research has indicated a possible antioxidant benefit in chocolate similar to that found in red wine. Not only is chocolate and red wine a tantalizing combination for its sensational taste, but research shows these foods also contain antioxidants which may be good for health. In September, 1996, The Lancet ³ reported cocoa powder and chocolate contain a relatively high amount of phenolic compounds, which possess antioxidant properties. Further, they found the compounds possess properties that may be beneficial in reducing the risk for coronary heart disease.
A 1.5 ounce chocolate bar contains about the same amount of total phenolic compounds as a 5-ounce serving of red wine, which has been associated with a reduced risk for coronary heart disease.
Currently, the American Cocoa Research Institute, the research branch of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, is sponsoring a study to evaluate further the amount and types of antioxidants in chocolate products. The results of these studies will also provide additional information about the potential benefits of chocolate products in our diets.
Chocolate and Cravings
Many people describe their desire to eat chocolate as a "craving." In fact, studies have shown that chocolate is the single most craved food in the country.(*4, *5) Experts are actively conducting research to determine causes of cravings. Much of this research has focused on chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters that might affect one's mood and desire for different types of foods.(*6, *7)
Serotonin and endorphins are two of the better-understood neurotransmitters. Serotonin is thought to help people feel calm and relaxed. It is believed that low levels of serotonin lead to craving for starches and for sweet foods like chocolate. This is because foods high in carbohydrate may help boost the amount of serotonin in the brain. A feeling of well-being is said to return with a raise in serotonin levels. Additionally, some researchers believe that serotonin is related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and may explain premenstrual cravings for foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches). (*8,*9)
Endorphins are believed to be "feel good" neurotransmitters. In contrast to serotonin, endorphin levels appear to be affected by dietary fat—thus, it has been suggested that eating fat-containing foods like chocolate might increase endorphins and lift a person's mood.
Chocolate Myths Dispelled
Because chocolate has been around for so long and is a complex food, it is no surprise that many myths have been established surrounding this food. For example, contrary to what some believe, chocolate is not high in caffeine. In fact, the amount of caffeine in a typical 1.4 ounce chocolate bar or an 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk is about equivalent of that found in a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
What about candy and dental cavities? Candy alone does not cause cavities. A triad of elements causes cavities: susceptible teeth, dental plaque, and food.(*10*) Dentists agree, the cavity causing potential of food is not necessarily related to sugar content, but rather to how often a food is eaten, the sequence of foods eaten and the amount of time the food remains in the mouth. In the diet, bacteria metabolize fermentable carbohydrates, from both sugars (e.g., candies, soda, fruit juice, jellies) and starches (e.g., rice, pasta, bread), and thus may lead to cavities.¹¹ To prevent dental cavities many factors are involved: regular fluoride use, proper oral hygiene, control of fermentable carbohydrates and application of plastic sealants.
To dispel another myth, neither chocolate nor sugar cause hyperactivity. Research has proven for years that sugar does not cause uncontrolled behavior in children. Both the Food and Drug Administration ¹² and the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Sugar and Health ¹³ support these findings. Experts now believe that it is often the excitement surrounding a party or celebration that causes the exaggerated behavior rather than the foods that are consumed.
Whether antioxidant benefits, neurotransmitter responses or your mother's favorite myth, the real reason we eat chocolate may not be so complex. We eat chocolate simply because it tastes good. Research continues to support what we have known for years—that chocolate can be enjoyed as an important part of a healthful and pleasurable diet.
Reviewed by: Mindy Hermann, MBA, RD, Nutrition Specialist, Mt. Kisco, NY. Information from: Chocolate Manufacturers Association, 7900 Westpark Drive, Suite A-320, McLean, VA 22102-4203, (703) 790-5011
¹Kris-Etherton PM, Derr JA, Mitchell DC, et al. The role of fatty acid saturation on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and apolipoproteins. I. Effects of whole food diets high in cocoa butter, olive oil, soybean oil, dairy butter and milk chocolate on the plasma lipids of young men. II. The plasma total and LDL-cholesterol response of individual fatty acids. Metabolism. 1993;42:121-134.
²Kris-Etherton PM, Derr JA, Mustard VA, Seligson FH, Pearson TA. A milk chocolate bar/day substituted for a high carbohydrate snack increases high density lipoprotein cholesterol in young men on NCEP/AHA Step One diet. Am J Clin Nutr supplement. December 1994.
³Waterhouse AL, Shirley JR, Donovan JL. Antioxidants in Chocolate. The Lancet. 1996;348-807.
(*4)Rozin P, Levine E, Stoess C. Chocolate craving and liking. Appetite. 1991;17:199-212.
(*5)Weingarten HP, Elston D. Food cravings in a college population. Appetite. 1991; 17:167-175.
(*6)Schifano F, Magni G. MDMA ("Ecstasy") abuse: psychopathological features and craving for chocolate: a case series. Biol Psych. 1994;36:763-767.
(*7)Weingarten HP, Elston D. The phenomenology of food cravings. Appetite. 1990;15:231-246.
(*8)Wurtman JJ, Brzezinski A, Wurtman RJ, Laferrere B. Effect of nutrient intake on premenstrual depression. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1989;161:1228-1234.
(*9)Moller SE. Serotonin, carbohydrates, and atypical depression. Pharmacol Toxicol. 1992;71:61-71.
(*10*)Greene JC, Louie R, Wycoff SJ. Preventive dentistry: Dental caries. Jama. 1989;262:3459-63.
¹¹ Tinanoff N. Dental plaque in the carious process. In: Stewart RE, Barber TK, Troutman KC. Wei Shy, eds. Pediatric Dentistry, Scientific Foundations and Clinical Practice. St. Louis, MO: CV Mosby Co; 1982;548.
¹² Glinsmann WH, Irausquin H, Park YK. Evaluation of Health Aspects of Sugars Contained in Carbohydrate Sweeteners. Report of Sugars Task Force, 1986. Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Division of Nutrition Toxicology, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration: 1986.
¹³The Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health. Washington DC: Public Health Service: 1988. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.