Happiness Is… Chocolate
Dark and Delicious, it’s Blissfully Healthy
Did you know that more than half of U.S. adults prefer chocolate to other flavors and spend $55 per person per year to indulge their hankering? That’s a lot of chocolate— some 3.3 billion pounds annually, or about 12 pounds per chocoholic. The International Cocoa Organization further estimates that by 2015, U.S. chocolate sales will top $19 billion.
Yet, Europeans still enjoy the majority of chocolate per capita. Switzerland leads the trend, with its citizens each forking over the equivalent of U.S. $206 a year for the treat. Worldwide, 21st century chocolate consumption continues to climb year after year; cocoa seems to be a recession-free commodity. That’s good news for Indonesia and the West African nations that produce 70 percent of Earth’s cocoa beans.
It’s widely known that dark chocolate, in particular, is good for our emotional and physical health. The only debate that remains is what quantity is the most advantageous to include in our daily or weekly diet.
Why Chocolate Appeals
Eating dark chocolate makes people happy, researchers have learned, because it contains phenylethylamine, the same nurturing hormone triggered by the brain when we fall in love. It’s no wonder that Madame du Barry and Giacomo Casanova both believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac. Further, according to the California Academy of Sciences, the theobromine in chocolate acts as a myocardial stimulant, dilator of coronary arteries and smooth muscle relaxant, all inducing good feelings.
A Bite of History
Xocolatl was the Aztecs’ word for chocolate, which they called “bitter water” and considered a gift from the gods. Cultivated for 1,000 years, the cacao tree is prolific once it reaches maturity, producing cocoa pods every six months for about 20 years. The beans must be fermented before they begin to taste like the chocolate we know and love. Cocoa was first introduced to Europe when explorer Hernán Cortés brought the beans from Mexico to Spain in the early 1500s. The Spaniards kept their discovery a secret for almost a century, until it was smuggled by monks into France. By the 1650s, cocoa had crossed the channel to England and the North American colonies of the English and Dutch; 1831 heralded the invention of the first chocolate bar in the United States.
Researchers at the Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine recently reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that subjects who consistently consumed dark chocolate showed a 40 percent lower risk of myocardial infarction and stroke than those who did not.
A study published in the European Heart Journal that tracked almost 20,000 people for 10 years found that people who ate about 7 grams of dark chocolate per day had lower blood pressure and 39 percent less risk of experiencing a stroke or heart attack, compared to those who ate an average of 1.7 grams daily.
Scientists have learned that cocoa powder and chocolate contain rich sources of polyphenol antioxidants, the same beneficial compounds found in red wine and many fruits and vegetables that help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Professor Frank Ruschitzka, head of cardiology at University Hospital, in Zurich, Switzerland, comments: “Basic science has demonstrated quite convincingly that dark chocolate, particularly with a cocoa content of at least 70 percent, reduces oxidative stress and improves vascular and platelet [appropriate blood clotting] function.”
Chocolate lovers also will be glad to know that dark chocolate contains more antioxidants per 3.5 ounces than prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, plums, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries, onions, corn or eggplant.
Gabriel Constans, Ph.D., is a counselor, journalist and author of a dozen books, including Luscious Chocolate Smoothies: An Irresistible Collection of Healthy Cocoa Delights and Great American Smoothies. For more information, visit GoGabriel.com.
Click here for Chocolate Smoothies for Valentines