For The Love of Chocolate
"Chocolate…."To eat it or not to eat it….That is the Question"
"Chocolate…."To eat it or not to eat it….That is the Question"
The love of chocolate can be traced back centuries. Ancient Romans and Greeks considered chocolate a food for the gods. Native South Americans served it to Spanish explorers in the 1500s, who then brought it back to Europe, where it grew in popularity during the 17th century. The word "chocolate" comes from the Aztec xocolatl, meaning "bitter water." The unsweetened drink the Aztecs made of pounded cocoa beans and spices was extremely bitter. Bitterness notwithstanding, the Aztec king -- Montezuma so believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac that he purportedly drank 50 golden goblets of it each day.
Chocolate comes from the tropical cocoa bean, Theobroma ("food of the gods") cacao. After the beans are removed from their pods they're fermented, dried, roasted and cracked, separating the nibs (which contain an average of 54 percent cocoa butter) from the shells. The nibs are ground (to extract some of the cocoa butter natural vegetable fat); leaving a thick, dark brown paste called chocolate liquor. Next, the chocolate liquor receives an initial refining. If additional cocoa butter is extracted from the chocolate liquor, the solid result is ground to produce unsweetened cocoa powder. If other ingredients are added (such as milk powder, sugar, etc.), the chocolate is refined again. The final step for most chocolate is conching, a process by which huge machines with rotating blades slowly blend the heated chocolate liquor, ridding it of residual moisture and volatile acids. The conching continues for 12 to 72 hours (depending on the type and quality of chocolate) while small amounts of cocoa butter and sometimes lectithin are added to give chocolate its voluptuously smooth texture. Unadulterated chocolate is marketed as unsweetened chocolate called baking or bitter chocolate. U.S. standards require that unsweetened chocolate contain between 50 and 58 percent cocoa butter. In 1847 milk chocolate was created, becoming an instant hit around the world and remaining so today.
Many people think certain foods are "good" and others are "bad. Healthful eating can include all foods, even chocolate. Grains fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products serve as the basis for a balanced eating patterning which can include foods such as chocolate, on occasion. Foods like chocolate are the extras in our diet that contribute to the pleasure of eating. Denying yourself pleasures in not necessary. What is necessary is understanding how to fit these extra treats into your total eating pattern.
Chocolate contains fat, which adds variety, flavor, and enjoyment to eating. Our bodies need some fat to function. Since the human body cannot produce its own fat, the diet must provide modest amounts. Fat furnishes energy for daily activities and supplies important vitamins for the body. Even though chocolate does contain saturated fat (notoriously known as the bad fat) moderate intake does not increase blood cholesterol alone. Remember, the key word is moderation.
Our fascination with chocolate is never ending -- researchers continue to study chocolate; learning more about the body's reaction to chocolate. Women who suffer from PMS (premenstrual syndrome) often crave sweets and chocolate. A craving for chocolate may be explained by it's high content of phenylethylamine, which triggers the release of dopamine, which in turn promotes feelings of relation and alertness. In the August 1996 issue of "Nature," Daniel Piomelli reported that his team of colleague found chocolate contains ananadamine, which is also produced naturally in the brain and activates the same target as marijuana. He also found two chocolate ingredients that inhibit the natural breakdown of anandamide, which could lead to heightened levels of anandamide in the brain. To achieve the same marijuana-like effect, a 130-pound person would have to eat 25 pounds of chocolate in one sitting. There is a lay contention that chocolate is additive; Piomelli stressed that his work does not imply that chocolate is addictive.
Over the years, chocolate has become associated with many myths. The facts debunk a few of the myths circulating about one of the world's favorite foods:
• Many people think carob is more healthful than milk chocolate. Carob is the long, leathery pods from the tropical carob tree contain a sweet, edible pulp (which can be eaten fresh) and a few hard, inedible seeds. After drying, the pulp is roasted and ground into a powder. It is then used to flavor baked goods and candies. Because carob is sweet and tastes vaguely of chocolate, it's often used as a chocolate substitute. A carob bar contains the same amount of fat and calories as the same size milk chocolate bar.
• Some people think chocolate contains excessive caffeine. On the contrary, an ounce of milk chocolate has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee (about 16 milligrams). Brewed coffee contains as least 100 milligrams per cup.
• Some people report they are allergic to chocolate. The true chocolate allergy is uncommon and difficult to prove. Other ingredients in chocolate products are more likely the cause a reaction; creating the misconception of a chocolate allergy.
• Chocolate can be good for your health, but the bad news is, you can only sniff it! Dr. Angela Clow from the University of Westminster, London, has shown that sniffing chocolate enhances the immune system, which protects us against all types of disease-causing bugs. The study asked participants to sniff chocolate and then rotting meat; the response to chocolate was good with antibody levels increasing, whereas rotting meat caused a negative response.
Chocolate and Valentine’s Day have long been synonymous. Chocolate has been a favorite for at least four hundred years, and its popularity at Valentine’s Day is evident. Valentine’s Day being for lovers and chocolate’s historical relevance as an aphrodisiac and food of the gods, women everywhere have grown to expect chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Graceful trade-offs in our diet planning can enable all to enjoy chocolate without adding those extra bonus’ in our calories and fat grams.
Managing and enjoying the amount of fat in the diet is like balancing a "fat" checkbook -- each day you spend your fat on the foods you eat -- the amount you spend depends on your food choices. Chocolate fits in the Food Guide Pyramid at the very top--the icing on the Pyramid cake, so to speak. Chocolate, especially in candy or for baking, contains a high percentage of fat, and the calories can add up, so plan wisely. To include chocolate in your routine, limit other high fat foods or cut portions. For example: use fat-free salad dressing, cheese or margarine. By making trade-offs, a piece of chocolate or a small candy bar could fit into your eating plan. Another option--try cocoa powder. It's virtually fat free and can make great brownies, cakes and cookies--and cut the fat. Finally, miniature chocolate bars or mini chocolate chips often satisfy chocolate cravings with fewer calories--if you don't eat the whole bag. If you can't live without chocolate, learn to work it into your low-fat eating plan and enjoy. But chocolate is high in fat and calories, so planning is the key to having you’re chocolate--and enjoying a healthful eating plan, too. Another option is to try a lower fat chocolate candy, but remember to check the label to be sure you're saving calories. Learning to balance high and low-fat foods allows you to have the foods that are close to your heart, while keeping it healthy. If you can't live without your Valentines chocolate, skip other high fat foods or choose lower fat versions of milk, cheese, or salad dressing. Variety in your eating plan also helps you develop a plan you will love, and can be faithful to for the rest of your life.