Why do Americans love chocolate so much? Scientists have been trying to understand the chemistry of chocolate (and our love affair with it) for years.
And some chocolate may actually be good for us? Chocolate is derived from the beans of the cacao tree.
The cacao, or cocoa, beans go through several processes to produce various forms of chocolate—fermenting, drying, roasting and grinding— to produce a paste which is pressurized and becomes a cocoa solid and cocoa butter.
The cocoa contains flavonoids and phytochemicals that have an antioxidant effect with the potential to reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart.
In addition, cocoa contains a chemical that when combined with dopamine, which is naturally occurring in our bodies that can produce anti-depressant effects.
This same chemical also promotes feelings associated with the first euphoric moments of falling in love, and some research has even shown that the effects of chocolate on brain activity and heart rate can actually last four times longer than a passionate kiss.
Milk, dark or white? People often ask why does dark chocolate get so much attention and is it really healthy for you? The answer is in the cocoa—and of course the fat and sugar content.
Dark chocolate is made up of about 70 percent cocoa solid and cocoa butter with added sugar and about 2 to 3 times more flavonoids than milk chocolate.
Milk chocolate contains up to 50 percent cocoa solid and cocoa butter with more added fat and sugar than dark chocolate, giving it a creamier texture.
With both dark chocolate and milk chocolate, processing is key. The less processing the more flavonoids will be retained in the final product. White chocolate contains no cocoa solids, only cocoa butter and the remainder is fat and sugar.
Not a chocolate lover? You’re in luck. You can get similar effects from flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, peanuts, onions and cranberries.
So, this Valentine’s Day, forget the roses, and enjoy a healthy dose of premium dark chocolate. It will be good for your heart and your loved one.
Staci Lupberger, MS, RD, is assistant director at CU’s Anschutz Health & Wellness Center and program director of the Center’s My New Weigh Program. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition & Food Science from Colorado State University, a BS in Dietetics from the University of Northern Colorado and a BA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, running with her dogs, practicing yoga, playing the piano and spending time with family & friends.