Nutrition Articles

Chocolate: A Not-So-Guilty Pleasure

A Love Affair with Good Reason

For years, you’ve tried to break it off. You’re certain this relationship is wrong, even sinful. But try as you might, you just can’t end it—your willpower inevitably crumbles, and you always go back for more.

We’re talking of course about your love affair with CHOCOLATE— that dark seducer even more likely to attract as you're surrounded by heart-shaped displays. Long thought to be an aphrodisiac, chocolate has been inextricably linked to Cupid and lovers since it was discovered among the ancient Aztecs and carried to the Old World.

The New World likes it too: the United States is the second largest importer of cocoa beans (second to the Netherlands), importing about 18.5% of the world's cocoa. While 75% of chocolate purchases are made by women, the tables are turned during the days and minutes before Valentine's Day. $1 billion worth of chocolate is sold for this holiday—75% of it purchased by men.

But, whether you’re the giver or receiver, just how sinful is chocolate? The Aztecs and their neighbors, the Mayans, believed chocolate transmitted knowledge and power to those who consumed it. While there’s no evidence to support that idea, there is mounting evidence showing some health benefits to eating it in moderation. Studies have found that dark chocolate helps prevent heart disease and cancer, and has also been shown to improve mood by boosting the brain chemical serotonin. Some even consider chocolate an effective diet food, claiming that a chunk of chocolate before meals diminishes your appetite.

Made up of about 300 chemicals—some of which in theory have mood-altering effects – chocolate contains negligible amounts of the stimulant caffeine, as well as theobromine (which stimulates the heart and the nervous system) and phenyethylamine (an amphetamine-like substance said to simulate the feeling of falling in love). A University of Michigan study says chocolate causes the brain to release b-endorphin, a naturally occurring chemical similar to opium, which dulls pain and increases your sense of well-being.

Chocolate contains a wide assortment of vitamins and minerals that the body needs, including potassium, sodium, iron, fluorine and vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E. In fact, researchers at Harvard University believe chocolate may help people live longer! A study tracking older men found that those who ate chocolate lived almost a year longer than those who didn't.

Researchers believe this has something to do with the fact that chocolate contains flavonoids(compounds that may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer while slowing the aging process) and stearic acid, a heart-friendly fatty acid that doesn’t promote cholesterol increases.

But a University of Pennsylvania study testing so-called chocoholics found that the cravings may not lie in chemistry at all, but the melt-in-your-mouth texture of chocolate. Subjects in the study were found to prefer chocolate bars, even white chocolate bars which didn't actually contain any chocolate at all, over capsules of cocoa powder full of chocolate's active ingredients.

The bottom line: Chocolate may be getting a bad rap as a sinful food. On the other hand—as always—moderation may be the key. If you simply must indulge, here are some tips for controlling your chocolate cravings and consumption:

  • Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Studies based on dark chocolate tend to show benefits that milk chocolate does not.
  • Partner your chocolate with nutrient-rich foods, like chocolate covered strawberries, apple slices or bananas. Add a few chocolate chips in your berry-nut trail mix. Try a refreshing glass of chocolate-flavored milk or soymilk.
  • Buy smaller sizes of chocolate bars or hot fudge sundaes, since research shows you tend to eat the entire amount you’re served.
  • Order fruit for dessert, with a small chocolate truffle on the side.
  • Savor, don’t chew, your chocolate. Sit down, take your time, and focus on the taste in your mouth. Enjoy it thoroughly. If you pop it in your mouth while you are driving, watching TV, or talking on the phone, you’re likely to keep reaching for more.
  • Give in to your chocolate cravings! Every try to stifle a craving by eating something else? You usually just end up eating more and more foods, eventually giving in to your original desire anyway. Save yourself the calories and the torment! A small portion may be all you need for satisfaction.

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Member Comments

  • I like the idea of having fruit with dark chocolate! I love to melt dark chocolate and dip my fruit.
  • I have a 10 gram piece of real 70% dark chocolate every evening (calorie counted). I much prefer it to milk chocolate which is usually a binge trigger for me. Not so the dark variety.
  • I've FINALLY learned to NOT buy hardly any at a time. If I bring it in, its INTO me almost at once. IF though I just buy one chocolate bar (Favorite at the moment is a butterfinger, not the big ones) and I am FINE For days. I've always been a junk food queen, and though some are NOT pleased, that's to bad, for I know me, I will not change.

    Before someone gets all upset it does work for me. I am down 110 lbs with 40 left to go. I am much healthier than I've ever been though by far my food would make most gain. I had been eating cakes, cookies, ice cream for meals before joining Sparks.

    I did have testing done and it concluded my taste buds aren't right. Hence a lot of healthy things literally taste like dirt. Yes, I've tried this/that.

    ONLY 40 lbs to GO!! WOOHOOO!!!
  • Thank God I don't much like chocolate!
  • A_GAME
    Chocolate is soooooooooooooooo
    o yummy! It has anti-oxidants in it that can prevent cancer and heart disease!
  • I've always had a fondness, really a fondness for chocolate. The dark really ones give me an upset stomach so it's milk or medium dark for me. I just have to be sure to keep only a very limited amount in the house or just wait until I go out. I always remember a very reliable bit of advice I got from my therapist years ago and stick by it.
    It seldom serves to deprive yourself of something that isn't dangerous to you so if it's chocolate just make sure that you pick the best brand and the most enjoyable variety and let yourself enjoy it. I.E. instead of a whole bar of some cheap chocolate like Hersheys etc. go to a special shop and get one or two hand made "candies" in your favourite flavours made from real European chocolate like Swiss or Belgian etc.
    And do not feel any guilt. After all you deserve it----I know I do!
  • It's true that sometimes a little bit goes a long way. For breakfast (instead of a chocolate croissant!) I have McCann's plain oatmeal (instant) one Splenda, cut up half a banana and 1 tablespoon of Nestles chocolate Chips (stir in after its cooked and everything else added). It is delicious and tastes decadent but only 250 calories! When you have a sweet tooth, this will save you from a horrible binge.
  • Please, Spark People, could we avoid the concept of "GUILTY" pleasures, etc., etc.?

    My nutrition is lifestyle based - I'm not into a 'diet' mentality and Sparks actively encourages us to embrace a healthy lifestyle rather than a diet. It would be great if this message were consistent through out all the site's messaging.
  • I couldnt control myself before with junk food and 'treats', so in the end just eliminated them from my diet / eating habits in total. I do think chocolate has some benefits but then again it is mostly sugar. I was surprised when one of my ex boyfriends put dark chocolate in his porridge because he was a super healthy personal trainer, run 25 miles a week kind of guy, which made me think a bit of it and now again is good. I just dont want a little bit to turn into a lot every day! I think next time I have oats, I might add one square of dark chocolate. I will savour and enjoy it but not see it as a sin to eat or as a treat cause it might then become a comfort food when I.m down!
  • I dislike the poll, because it doesn't leave the option for us that don't like chocolate - it gives me terrible headaches. I've never been drawn to it.
  • I've lost over 20lbs so far and I eat a serving of dark chocolate almost everyday! I just make sure to count it in my calories:)

About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
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