Healing Kitchen

Chocolate Lovers Rejoice!
Chocolate has over 300 known chemicals, and it contains important nutrients such as potassium and magnesium. Chocolate also contains, in smaller amounts, protein, beta-carotene, phosphorus, calcium, and trace amounts of iron. The seductiveness of chocolate, its hedonic appeal, the sensory pleasures of its taste, fat, sugar, texture, and aroma, all contribute to its continued popularity. Remember, you aren't alone in your love of chocolate. According to recent statistics, more than one billion people worldwide consume some form of chocolate every day. Americans eat about 12 pounds of chocolate a year. Chocolate & Catechins Don't feel too guilty if you like to sneak in a few bites of chocolate a day! Current research indicates that certain chemical compounds in chocolate are actually good for you. Not that you should overindulge in your appreciation for chocolate, but, nonetheless, it is still rather comforting to know that this food of the gods may have potent nutritional capabilities. "Recent evidence has shown that chocolate is a rich source of antioxidant compounds and may confer protective effects on cardiovascular disease," explains Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition at The Pennsylvania State University. In a study conducted by researchers at Holland's National Institute of Public Health and Environment, and published in The Lancet, scientists examined the chemical compounds in a range of foods and discovered that catechins, powerful flavonoids found in tea, are also found in chocolate. According to the study, chocolate appears to have more catechins than tea. As research on chocolate continues to be promising, it is important to note that methods used to analyze total dietary intake of flavonoids from any food item still need to be refined, and subtle bioactive differences in the composition of flavonoids, particularly in relation to their potential health benefits, remain undetermined. Don't Go Chocolate Crazy Yet: Stearic Acid Controversy The potential down-side to chocolate may lie within its stearic acid content. Stearic acid is a saturated fatty acid found in beef, some dairy foods, and chocolate. According to Frank Hu, M.D. Professor, Harvard School of Public Health, "our study found that intake of stearic acid, like other saturated fat, was associated with increased risk of heart disease. However, this does not necessarily mean that chocolate is bad because chocolate contains not only stearic acids, but also numerous other nutrients such as antioxidants." An editorial, "Harbingers of coronary heart disease: dietary saturated fatty acids and cholesterol is chocolate benign because of its stearic acid content?" published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conjectures that stearic acid poses a risk to cardiovascular health because it may be responsible for the promotion of thrombosis (blood clotting). Other sources imply that stearic acid confers positive effects upon plasma lipoproteins and cholesterol when it is metabolized into oleic acid. Clearly, more research on stearic acid is needed. Chocolate Cravings: More than Meets the Tongue Along with dietary flavonoids, chocolate also contains several biologically active components (methylxanthines, biogenic amines, and cannabinoid-like fatty acids), all of which potentially cause psychological reactions that parallel those caused by addictive substances. Data from a study, "Chocolate: food or drug," published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association by researchers at University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Tucson, suggests that chocolate may appeal to people who have addictive behavior by evoking psychopharmacologic and behavioral reactions in those who are susceptible. Magnesium Deficiency, PMS, and Chocolate Needless to say, the combination of sensory characteristics, nutritional profile, and psychoactive compounds, contributes to a sound explanation of why chocolate is so appealing. Some theories suggest that craving chocolate is associated with fluctuations in hormonal changes that occur just before and during the menstrual cycle, which may be the key to why women tend to be the predominant devotees of chocolate. Chocolate cravings may also indicate certain dietary deficiencies such as magnesium. Chocolate as well as cocoa powder contain high amounts of magnesium (100mg/100g and 520mg/100g, respectively), and some studies have shown magnesium supplements to subdue symptoms of craving for chocolate. Chocolate cravings may be a way of compensating for low levels of neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) involved in the regulation of mood and food intake. Studies have shown magnesium deficiency correlates with increased symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that relays signals of euphoria, well-being, and satisfaction to the brain, is depleted when magnesium deficiency occurs. This may lend some credence to the notion that magnesium deficiency contributes to the increase in chocolate cravings associated with PMS.
Author: Maureen Mulhern-White
Date Published: 02/13/2000
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