How big is our craving?
Although America doesn’t out eat all other countries when it comes to chocolate (the Swiss hold that title). We are no lightweights when it comes to the most notable and sometimes notoriously craved food in the world. The Average American eats 12 pounds of chocolate per year. That is the equivalent of 16 bags of chocolate chips.
The history of the chocolate craze:
Known history of chocolate dates back 4000 years, and while we associate it’s early history starting in 1900 BC near modern day Chiapas Mexico and much later with Montezuma and explorers who brought it over to Europe, some lesser known history actually hits closer to home. The earliest traces of cacao in this country have been found in southern Utah and date back to 780 AD. This discovery is even more surprising when you recall that cacao is grown solely within 20 degrees latitude of the equator. And yet ancient chocolate found its way 1,500 miles north to dry, hot Utah.
Test your knowledge of one of the most interesting foods on the planet.
True or False: Chocolate is high in caffeine.
False. 1 oz. of dark chocolate (3 squares) has 12-15 mg caffeine – about 1/10th the amount in a cup of coffee. Semi-sweet and milk chocolate contains even less.
True or False: Chocolate is bad for your cholesterol.
False. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which help reduce the formation of LDL cholesterol and increase HDL (good cholesterol).
True or False: 1 serving of chocolate has more iron, copper and zinc than 1 serving broccoli.
True. While chocolate is no substitute for eating your veggies, dark chocolate does contain some healthful nutrients and fiber.
True or False: Cocoa and Cacao are identical and interchangeable terms.
False. Cacao is produced by pressure but not heat and cocoa involves heat in the processing which can destroy some of the healthy flavonoid compounds.
True or False: Chocolate can improve your mood.
True. Certain compounds in chocolate can improve mood and alertness, however, some of the mood improvement may just be attributed to the sensory effect of eating chocolate itself.
While chocolate provides minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus, the stars of the show when it comes to health benefits are the flavonoids. These compounds help reduce blood pressure and reduce the production of LDL cholesterol. Studies are researching links between these compounds found in chocolate and things such as improved brain function and memory and even oxygen use and endurance in athletes. And of course, there are the mood enhancing effects of chocolate, which may account for the unrivaled craveability of this dark delight. While the % cocoa on the label doesn’t guarantee a certain level of heart-healthy flavonoids, the darker the better. Also, heat and alkali destroy these healthy compounds so dutch processed and more heat processing means less health benefits.
Trends to watch for:
Keep an eye out for interesting additions to chocolate this year such as spirulina (blue-green algae), tahini, matcha, or other super foods. Lavender chocolate is said to be on trend as well. But if some of those combinations sound less than appetizing, it’s hard to nutritionally beat the classic combination of chocolate with nuts and fruit.
Take Home Tips:
The darker the chocolate, the more health benefits you’ll get.
Portion control remains in force even for healthful foods. A few squares a day are fine, a few whole chocolate bars . . . not so much.