Chocolates are probably one of the few food items that taste great and also contain significant health benefits. Chocolates are loved by people across the world in various forms — whether you’re munching on a whole milk chocolate bar or topping a dollop of ice cream with chocolate sauce or digging into a delectable chocolate cake and then some. Needless to say, however pleasing all of the above are to your taste buds, they aren’t the best idea when you’re watching your weight or simply making an attempt to live healthy. There is no cap on consuming chocolates on cheat days or when you’re feeling blue, but remember to burn it out soon lest it should contribute to fat deposits and extra cholesterol in your body, leading to several other ailments.
Chocolate, now famous in the form of a chocolate bar was consumed as an unsweetened beverage for 90% of its history.
Obesity, hypertension, diabetes and more have been associated with chocolates (milk and synthetically sweetened ones) for a long time now. However, chocolate isn’t all bad for your health if eaten in moderation. According to a review from the Netherlands Journals of medicine, chocolate contains antioxidant properties; and dark chocolates can boost oxygen availability while following a fitness regime. Scientists at Harvard Medical School also found that drinking hot chocolate could help older people to reduce cognitive decline.
Chocolates as a mood-enhancer
It’s no wonder that your worst mental health days or emotionally draining moments might seem brighter when you have chocolates to help you sail through. “It’s a well-known fact that some foods increase serotonin levels. Even though a lot of people steer away from this treat for health reasons, it’s a misconception. Data reveals that people who consume dark chocolate show lower symptoms of depression compared to those who don’t eat chocolate at all. Nothing out of proportion is ever good and the same applies to chocolate. Small amounts of dark chocolate works well for to keep you up beat,” says Delnaaz T. Chanduwadia, Chief Dietitian, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai.
Chocolate as an aphrodisiac
Chocolates contain an amino acid called L-arginine that’s considered an effective natural sex-enhancer for both women and men. It tends to increase nitric oxide levels and promotes blood flow to the sexual organs, in turn increasing sensation and desire.
Chocolate first gained its reputation as an aphrodisiac from Western civilisation. The Mayans used cacao beans to pay for concubines in their version of a ‘red-light area’. Montezuma, the Aztec ruler was one of the first ‘lovers’ in history who tapped into the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate. It is said that he consumed as much as fifty cups of a cocoa elixir before going to his harem.
Casanova, the legendary lover, utilised the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate to exude enough energy for a night out in town. According to Malleys.com, “Endorphins are not the only brain chemicals linked to chocolate consumption. Together with dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin these four neurotransmitters form the quartet that is responsible for our happiness and they are all released when we eat chocolate.” Casanova understood this aspect well. It may not be incorrect to say that chocolate, the darker the better, is one of the world’s finest aphrodisiacs, second only to Champagne.
The Journal of Proteome reports that eating 40g of dark chocolate everyday for 14 days can reduce levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in our body. It also helps in reducing blood pressure.
Chocolates as sunscreen
The flavonols in chocolate may protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density. According to sciencenews.org, women who drank “a cocoa drink rich in flavonoids made their skin look better and protected it from ultraviolet-light damage.”
Chocolate is available in 3 main varieties, dark, milk and white:
Chocolates containing very little or no milk solids (less than 12%) and at least 35% cacao content. Bittersweet chocolate is a dark chocolate variant with 50-99% cacao content. Semi-sweet chocolate is another dark chocolate type, but with a relatively lower cacao content at 35-50%.
“Dark chocolate with 70% cocoa is considered healthiest with rich antioxidants, Polyphenols and Flavonoids. They cause vasodilation that in turn relaxes the blood vessels, improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Research also suggests that dark chocolate may also help lower fasting glucose levels and reduce insulin resistance,” explains Minal Shah, Senior Nutrition Therapist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, Mumbai.
Any chocolate with more than 12% milk or milk solids is considered a milk chocolate. The cacao content in this chocolate type tends to range between 33-45%. Milk chocolate is made of milk (usually milk powder), sugar, and cocoa powder, which gives it its brown shade. “Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate with chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, Lexithin, sugar and Vanilla. It is high in sugar and fats,” adds nutritionist Minal Shah.
White chocolate is actually a misnomer, as it contains no chocolate or cacao solids. Instead, it is made of 20% cacao butter extracted from the cocoa bean. Since it doesn’t contain any cocoa powder, it doesn’t have its classic chocolate-y taste.
Speaking of dietary requirements, “Dark chocolate is rich in calories, so portion control is very important. Even though it is healthy and heart-friendly, in excess it can instead lead to weight gain and obesity. 6 gm of dark chocolate i.e. 1-2 squares are ideal for regular consumption,” according to Shah.