To say that chocolate is confectionery is like saying a diamond is a hardened lump of carbon. Both statements are true, but they totally miss the point.
Chocolates are not food in the same way as diamonds are not rocks (unless the ‘rock’ is over 2 carats and you also call your Palm Beach Mansion D’amour, ‘the cottage’). Chocolate is bliss incarnate. It represents comfort, desire, love, reward - and it tastes pretty good too.
Over the years, chocolate-lovers have had a difficult time justifying their passion on health grounds, until recently. News of high levels of antioxidants found in chocolate spread like wildfire among chocolate lovers of the world. Suddenly people were proudly unwrapping their chocolate in full public view, instead of the furtive fumblings in the office desk drawer that used to go on.
Antioxidants are the next big thing - and they have been lurking in our food forever. Even chocolate. Especially chocolate! Antioxidants are helpful in preventing all sorts of conditions including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, wrinkles and even cancer. The type of antioxidant found in chocolate are called catechins (cat-ee-kins) The more cocoa in your chocolate, the more catechins there will be. Dark chocolate contains 53.5mg per 100g, milk chocolate contains 15.9mg per 100g and white chocolate contains none at all because it doesn’t contain cocoa. Sorry Milky Bar Kid.
In addition to antioxidants, chocolate is also a pretty good source of other minerals, particularly magnesium (420mg per 100g). Magnesium helps reduce muscle cramping, including the cramps around period time. Chocolate also contains iron, a mineral lost during the period and needed for red blood cells to ferry oxygen around the body.
Chocolate - the food of love?
Many people, particularly premenstrual women, have cravings for chocolate. Very likely, if you offer handfuls of Turkish delight or jellybeans to a premenstrual woman, you will be refused. Chocolate is the only food that will do. (For men, cravings are more for more spicy foods like Pizza. Men who crave chocolate may be more in touch with their feminine side). Although heightened at premenstrual time, chocolate craving can be present all the time. So what is it in chocolate that creates such desire? Could it be PEA? PEA (Phenylethylamine) is a neurotransmitter in chocolate that makes us feel good. High PEA levels are found in people who are emotionally stimulated, like being in love. This theory is sounding pretty good until you find out that salami contains ten times the amount of PEA as chocolate. Maybe chocolate won’t fulfill all your romantic needs, but at least you don’t have to sit by the phone for hours waiting for a Mars bar to ring.
Guilt free chocolate
Is there no end to chocolate’s nutritional goodness? Well actually, yes. In addition to cocoa, chocolate contains sugar, fat, flavourings and milk. The sugar and fat are what add the calories, and are responsible for tarnishing chocolates nutritional reputation. However, if you concentrate on the cocoa, it doesn’t look bad at all, with plenty of antioxidants, magnesium and iron. If you want to enjoy your chocolate fix without the guilt, why not make your own hot chocolate? Buy some cocoa (not drinking chocolate as this has fat and sugar added), add a teaspoon to a cup, then a scant teaspoon of sugar (or honey is really nice) add a few drips of boiling water and stir to make a paste, pour rest of boiling water and curl up next the fire with cat on lap and enjoy. Milk can be added (to cat or cocoa).