The chocolate mysticBy Philip Chua
Cebu Daily News
IN THESE days and age of health-consciousness, various food items have been on the spotlight, scrutinized, and re-evaluated, including chocolate, the “feel-good” food, the lover’s delight, which comes with, or without, flowers as a popular gift on special romantic occasions or holidays. In this column today, let us demystify some of the “facts and fancy” about this wonderful gift from nature.
Is chocolate good or bad for us?
Once considered decadent and bad for us, chocolate, especially the dark variety, has been scientifically proven to be beneficial to health. Except for some people who are allergic to it, or diabetics whose blood sugar is out of control, chocolate is now in as a “health food,” but still second to vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains.
Why is dark chocolate better?
Dark chocolate is processed less than its lighter counterpart and therefor contains higher level of flavanoids, antioxidant-like substance that helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Dark chocolate also has lesser fat and sugar, hence it’s slightly bitter taste. The more cocoa it contains, the greater the flavanoids in it.
How much is not “too much”?
Just like any food item, portion control is very important to our health. An average rule of thumb for chocolate indulgence is consuming no more than the size a small matchbox (roughly 1×1.5x.03 inches), once or twice a day.
Is chocolate an aphrodisiac?
No, not in a strict medical sense. While ancient civilization considered and used chocolate as a “sex aid,” it is not scientifically classified as an aphrodisiac, which is a medical term that refers to a substance whose consistent effect is sexual arousal. The flavanoids in chocolate tend to “somewhat” dilate (open up or widen the caliber) of blood vessels and allow them to fill up with more blood (which is the mechanism for erection), explains why it has earned the reputation of being and “aphrodisiac,” an obvious medical misnomer. Montezuma, an Aztec ruler, “supposedly drank a chocolatey concoction before visiting the women in his harem.” There were also myths that priests and nuns were forbidden from consuming the “romantically-potent” chocolate. This item was in the treatment armamentarium of French physicians “for those with broken heart.”
Does chocolate contain caffeine?
Yes, chocolate contains caffeine, but not much. To get the amount of caffeine in 8-oz of regular coffee, one has to eat 4 bars of dark chocolates or 14 bars of 1.5 oz milk chocolate, The latter would give 300 grams of sugar and about 3,000 calories (equivalent to more than the total calories from 3 meals in a day). Black coffee provides only about 2 calories.
Are more expensive chocolates better?
No, more costly chocolates (Godiva and others) are not any superior or healthier than most of the chocolates in the supermarket. As long as they are not tainted with chemical additives, they, like any variety of coffee, are acceptably healthier, when consumed with care and discipline.
Is chocolate anti-cancer?
While there are claims by “food supplement” manufacturers that chocolate is anti-cancer, there is no scientific basis for this assertion. And this is also true in the case of all, and I emphasize ALL, of the herbals, pills, juices, potions and lotions in the market today, which are falsely and deceitfully marketed as anti-cancer. They are taking advantage of the medical ignorance of the public to make financial gains. If any of them can cure cancer, or even prevent this deadly disease, then the “inventor” of the product would have been awarded the Noble Prize in Medicine. To prevent cancer, all we need is to live a healthy lifestyle, away from harmful smoke and chemicals, eating fish, vegetables, nuts, fruits, staying away from red meat, most especially processed foods, and doing daily exercise. As a bonus, this strategy also helps minimize or prevent obesity, diabetes, arthritis, gout, heart disease, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s. Not to mention it is devoid of the potential side-effects and complications from those medically-unproven “food supplements.” Another plus on top of that, it is much less expensive.
Does chocolate boost the immune system?
Like other food items containing flavanoids, polyphenols, and other antioxidants, chocolate is said to be healthy for our immune system, but it is not as powerful as fish, vegetables, nuts, and fruits as far as that beneficial effect is concerned. Nothing beats these four items, especially when combined with daily exercise.
Why is chocolate almost addicting?
A lot of people love chocolate. This sweet treat, when ingested and metabolized induces the secretion of the “feel-good” or “feel happy” hormones, like serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, phenylethamine, and ghrelin, the hunger hormone, which also reduces stress and improves mood. Fruits and other carbohydrates do that also, to a certain extent, but chocolate appears to have more of the effects than others. As always, remember the calories from chocolates, especially those who are diabetic (who should compute these calories and avoid going beyond their diabetic diet) and those who are trying to control their weight. As daily mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks, vegetables (carrots, cucumber, celery, etc) and nuts are healthier. Chocolate a couple of times a week is fine.
What are the other benefits from chocolate?
The other observed benefits from this special treat are improvement in mental performance, reduction in cell resistance to insulin, helping in the prevention and also in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, lowering of blood pressure and the risk for heart disease and stroke, some protection of skin from UV rays, has theobromine that can control cough, improvement in blood flow all over, including to the retina, which improves vision. All these effects could be minimal and very subtle. Chocolate is, therefore, not a medical therapeutic substance, but a treat each one of us chocolate-lovers can enjoy, in moderation.
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