THE THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS OF CHOCOLATE
A lot was written in the 17th and 18th centuries about the beneficial properties of chocolate. Reference was made to the belief of the Aztecs in the power of chocolate and its proponents and producers declared it an effective means to counter exhaustion and weakness. Soldiers, scholars and clergymen used it to support their stamina and endurance in long periods of physical, intellectual or spiritual stress. We nowadays know that it is the fat and carbohydrates contained in the chocolate, which give the body energy, and that the fat content means that the chocolate is digested slowly thus maintaining the feeling of fullness and saturation. The iron content, which helps transport oxygen to the brain, is regarded as the cause of greater mental activity although this is still to be proven.
Because plain chocolate does not contain milk, it has roughly only half the amount of proteins in comparison with white and milk chocolate and has significantly less calcium. Protein is vital for growth, regeneration and maintenance of body mass; calcium is important for contraction of the muscles, including those which set the heart into action, and also for the correct functioning of the nervous system, activity of enzymes and blood clotting. Plain chocolate contains somewhat less fat, consumption of which it is recommended we limit, and takes first place in content of carbohydrates, magnesium (this is an indispensible component of our body cells and acts on release of energy from food), iron (essential for creation of red blood cells and for delivery of oxygen around the body) and niacin (this is also involved in the process of releasing energy from food). Plain chocolate also contains slightly less calories. White chocolate, often deprecated by experts, contains more calcium, zinc, carotene and riboflavin (vitamin B2) than plain chocolate.
A NATURAL STIMULANT
Apart from the better known nutritional components, chocolate also contains certain types of alkaloids – organic substances found in plants – which have a significant effect on the body. The most important of these is theobromine, supporting the activities of the kidneys as a mild diuretic agent. Chocolate also stimulates the central nervous system, with effects similar to caffeine, which is also present in it. Theobromine is contained in cocoa beans to the level of about two percent and about 200 mg can be found in a bar of chocolate. The caffeine content is much less – about 25 mg per bar, roughly a quarter of the amount contained in a cup of fresh coffee.
CHOCOLATE AND THOUGHT
The question as to whether chocolate is an addictive substance or not always provokes a fiery discussion. Some historians concerned with sociology even speak of addiction to chocolate and subsequent crimes committed to satisfy the constantly growing need for it. The French expert on dietetics Michel Montignac even advises the following in his book from 1991 Dine Out and Lose Weight: “Be careful and limit yourself, because chocolate has an addictive nature. Drink a large glass of water to keep your ‘chocoholism’ under control.” Linda Henley, a contemporary American writer, definitely recommends that people prone to use of addictive substances satisfy their need for chocolate, and states that its benefits greatly outweigh the benefits of all other substances: “Chocolate doesn’t make you stupid and clumsy. It doesn’t render you incapable of operating machinery … you don’t have to smuggle chocolate across the border … possession, even possession with intent to sell is perfectly legal.” Some medical experts believe that the theobromine and caffeine in chocolate are the reason for its so-called addictive properties, but this could also be the presence of another substance called phenylethylalanine. This substance belongs to the group of chemicals known as endorphins, which have a similar effect to amphetamine, which phenylethylalanine is related to. As soon as endorphins are released into the blood circulation, your mood improves and positive energy is created as well as feelings ranging from happiness to euphoria, as experienced by runners and people doing aerobics. Phenylethylalanine is also found in the human body in its natural form. It has also been discovered that its levels in the brain increase if we are experiencing a condition, which is called “being in love”, which without a doubt proves why we have such a heady feeling when we eat excellent chocolate.
CHOCOLATE AS A MEDICINE Chocolate was used as a cure as far back as the 4th century when the Mayans first began to cultivate the cocoa tree. The Aztecs declared chocolate to be an effective means to counter exhaustion and weakness. Chocolate has a beneficial effect on the human body, not only for its delicious taste profile, but also for its calming effects. For example, Cardinal Mazarin calmed his anger with chocolate and only travelled with his personal chocolate maker. The Germans described chocolate as a medicine for years and it was only sold in chemists in Germany. It was appreciated for its nutritional value in France. It was also considered an aphrodisiac and deep source of inspiration. Scientific research has confirmed that chocolate is beneficial to health in moderate amounts. It is the fat and carbohydrates, which give the body energy. Chocolate is digested slowly and thus maintains the feeling of fullness and saturation. The content of carbohydrates, magnesium and niacin acts on release of energy from food. Protein is important for growth, regeneration and maintenance of body mass, calcium is important for contraction of the muscles, activity of enzymes and blood clotting etc. Other important components are theobromine, supporting the activity of the kidneys and caffeine, which stimulates the central nervous system. Nowadays, when chocolate and icings are not only produced from cocoa butter, but also from solidified vegetable fats, we keep an eye on the amounts of trans unsaturated fatty acids, which should be as low as possible in substitute vegetable fats.