The Feel-Good Power of Chocolate

"Antioxidant" is the buzzword on every chocolate lover’s lips, but beware indulging in too much of a good thing.  

Chocolate is not a great source of nutrients, but there’s no harm in eating a moderate amount, especially the dark variety, which contains some of the same disease-fighting antioxidants as red wine, fruits and vegetables.

In fact, a 40-gram bar of dark chocolate offers about the same amount of antioxidant protection as a 150-ml glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. These flavonoids have been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.

One ounce (30 g) of solid chocolate contains about 150 calories and 2 or 3 g of protein. The original bean has significant amounts of vitamin E and B vitamins. These nutrients, however, are so diluted as to be negligible in modern processed chocolate. Sweet or semisweet chocolate contains between 40 and 53 percent fat, or cocoa butter. Both chocolate and cocoa powder supply chromium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, but because of the high fat and calories you’re best to get these minerals from other sources.

The science behind your cravings

Ever wonder why you suddenly crave the rich, sweet taste of chocolate?

Well, the scientific answer is that chocolate contains two stimulants, theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine, unlike caffeine, does not stimulate the central nervous system but has a mainly diuretic effect. Most chocolate products contain no more than about 0.1 percent caffeine and are much less stimulating, volume for volume, than a cup of decaffeinated coffee.

Unsweetened baking chocolate is a much more concentrated source of caffeine. Chocolate is also rich in phenylethylamine (PEA), a naturally occurring compound that has effects similar to amphetamine. But look out migrainer-sufferers, as this compound can also trigger those nasty headaches.

Why we binge

Some people have a tendency to binge on chocolate after emotional upset, as it can be a mood elevator. While there’s no scientific basis for this behavior, psychiatrists have theorized that “chocoholics” may be people who have a faulty mechanism for regulating their body levels of phenylethylamine. And every woman knows that chocolate cravings can be tied to those monthly hormonal changes.

Sadly, after centuries of investigation, chocolate’s once-vaunted aphrodisiac qualities are being discounted. But in its myriad forms, chocolate is still a decadent temptation and a source of culinary pleasure.

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