Chocolate: Sign of love

Get high with chocolates this valentine. They are the ultimate expression of love and healthy too

Couple eating chocolateWhat is the closest thing that defines valentine? In all likelihood, the answer to this would be the tall, dark, handsome thing called "chocolate". Just a small bite melts in your mouth and the gooey stuff makes you feel happy and loved. It can even make you fall in love.

Yes, one should eat chocolate not just for the reasons above. It's healthy too!

But don't just go ransacking the chocolate loft. Here's a piece of bitter news - the counting is only on dark chocolate. Correct, the darker cousin of milk chocolate, for which, the taste has to be acquired. The word "chocolate" originates from the Aztecs. Chocolate that you see comes from cocoa beans, which are ground to produce cocoa butter producing chocolate liquor.

Chocolate liquor is blended with the cocoa butter in varying quantities to make different types of chocolates such as milk, white, semi-sweet or dark chocolates. Already confused about which is the type to choose? Read on for more.

A guide to choose chocolate

Dark chocolates are the best to choose for health benefits. Reason: Multi-functional anti-oxidants are present even more than in berries. Tip: Pick those with 60-plus per cent cocoa.

Here's how to read the fine print.

When you see packages labelled now with "% cocoa", it refers to the percentage of cocoa bean solids present in the bar. So:

  • A chocolate bar with 75 per cent cocoa has 25 per cent sugar
  • A bar with 65 per cent cocoa has 35 per cent sugar.

The higher the percentage of cocoa, the less sweet the bar and the stronger the chocolate taste.

Health galore

Drops blood pressure

A study by Jeffrey B Blumberg in the American Heart Association journal states that dark chocolate may reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin resistance. This beneficial effect is attributed to the cocoa flavonoids abundantly present in dark chocolate. Some studies have also observed a modest reduction in blood pressure and flow-mediated dilation after consuming approximately 100 gm of dark chocolate per day for few weeks.

A word of caution: 100 gm of dark chocolates roughly equals 400 calories, so one may have to cut the significant amount of these calories to fit in chocolates. But you may not have to go to these lengths. Just a bite might do you good.

A healthy heart

Scientists at the Harvard University School of Public Health recently examined 136 studies on cocoa and found that chocolate boosts heart health. Dark chocolate, with its high cocoa content, is a rich source of the flavonoids epicatechin and gallic acid, which possess cardio-protective properties. These anti-oxidants are present in a concentrated form, probably higher than red grapes and tea.

Cocoa anti-oxidants protect against LDL oxidation by preventing build-up of plaque that blocks arteries.

Feel good factor

Chocolate contains theobromine, the chemical that causes mood-elevating effects. Tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, an important neurotransmitter is involved in regulating moods. Phenethylamine, the "love chemical" is responsible for the pleasurable feelings after eating chocolate because it releases natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins in your brain. Perhaps that explains why chocolate is an integral part of love making since the time of Cleopatra. Chocolates are also known to decrease violent pre-menstrual mood swings among women owing to its whooping magnesium levels.

Aphrodisiac

The aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate are often associated with the simple sensual pleasure of its consumption. Chemicals found in chocolate, most notably phenethylamine, can act as mild sexual stimulants. In a survey of 143 women published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, those who ate chocolate everyday seemed to have more sex drive, better lubrication and an easier time reaching orgasm. No wonder Aztecs associated chocolate with Xochiquetzal — the goddess of fertility.

Molten chocolate magic: A study reported by the BBC indicated that melting chocolate in one's mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended.

Secret behind: Chocolate's melting point is slightly below human body temperature, so the melt-in-mouth effect.

Skin

Pure dark chocolate contains anti-oxidants which aid better skin complexion, according to the University of Pennsylvania. However, chocolate bars with milk content may cause acne.

Brain power

Research by West Virginia's Wheeling Jesuit University suggests that chocolate may boost your memory, attention span, reaction time and problem solving skills by increasing blood flow to the brain.

Mineral wealth

A bar of dark chocolate has 14 per cent of the daily requirement of copper, 12 per cent of magnesium and seven per cent iron.

Moderation is the key

There's no getting around it - chocolate is high in fat and calories. But when eaten in moderation, that's a square or two, can easily fit into a healthy, balanced diet. The most important factor is to balance the amount of calories you consume with the amount you burn.

Get them right

  • Birthday parties cause hyperactivity in kids not because of the chocolate that's served
  • Chocolate does not cause migraine and headaches
  • Dark chocolate and cocoa may actually be good for dental health because flavanol anti-oxidants and other compounds in cocoa and chocolate slow the build-up of plaque
  • Chocolate is not a typical food allergen. Depending on the type of chocolate, one or more of these ingredients could be present in a chocolate product. Read labels carefully.

Storing chocolates

Wrap it tightly in a couple layers of plastic wrap and stash it in a dark cupboard away from strong-smelling foods. Chocolate, like butter, will absorb strong aromas.

Stored improperly, chocolate will develop a white film called bloom. Bloom happens because the chocolate has become too warm, causing the cocoa butter to separate out. If bloom occurs, the chocolate will not have the luxurious melt-in-your-mouth feel, but is fine for baking.

Learn to enjoy chocolates

Pairing chocolate with fruit is natural. You can also pair chocolate and wine or also try chocolate with beer. Pair lighter chocolates with lighter wines and darker chocolates with full-bodied wines. Chocolate and coffee are meant to be together, while chocolate and tea is an unlikely match, according to some experts.

Also read interesting facts and recipes of chocolate.

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