Dear chocolate, how we love thee. No other food better symbolizes happiness, celebration, indulgence and romance. Even better, those stories you’ve been hearing are true — dark chocolate really is good for you! We’ll get to the science in a minute, just as soon as we’ve unwrapped our candy bar.
Why do people love chocolate?
“Research tells us 14 out of any 10 individuals like chocolate,” wrote humorist and children’s author Sandra Boynton. The big reason is the flavor, of course: complex sweetness balanced with bitterness. But look to chemistry for another cause — chocolate contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical your brain produces when you fall in love. It encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins.
What makes it healthful?
Dark chocolate, derived from the cacao plant, is rich in cocoa solids containing compounds known as flavanols. Flavanols have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve brain function, maintain the health of blood vessels and possibly lower the risk of diabetes. Dark chocolate has the highest amount of cocoa flavanols (milk chocolate has less and white chocolate has none).
Dark chocolate is also packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and beneficial minerals such as potassium, iron, zinc and selenium.
Portion size matters
You can enjoy dark chocolate every day, but to maximize its healthful effects try to limit your portion to one to two ounces a day. Read the label — you want chocolate that’s at least 60 percent cacao (i.e., cocoa). Higher-percentage chocolate contains more flavanols and less sugar and fat, so it’s better for you.
How long have people adored chocolate?
People have been enjoying this decadent treat for about 4,000 years. (That’s a lot of mmmms.) Chocolate drinks were Mayan and Aztec rituals, and the Europeans considered cacao the plant of the Gods. The high cost of cacao beans limited its consumption to the upper classes and elite in Europe and the Americas until the mid-1800s. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that chocolate was produced in a solid form, and by the 1920s, more people were eating it than drinking it. Today, Americans consume about 3 billion pounds of chocolate a year.
Have you had a treat today? If not, visit your local Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and indulge in one of our homemade desserts. You deserve it.