Monday, September 17, 2012

Dark Chocolate is Healthy Chocolate

It's the best medical news in ages. Studies in two prestigious scientific journals say dark chocolate -- but not white chocolate or milk chocolate -- is good for you.

Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate -- not white chocolate -- lowers high blood pressure, say Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Cologne, Germany. Their report appears in the Aug. 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

But that's no license to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure -- if you've reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure, say the researchers. But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things.

Antioxidants in Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate -- but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk -- is a potent antioxidant, report Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy's National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Aug. 28 issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.

"Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate ... and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate."

Translation: Say "Dark, please," when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don't even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word "moderate" as you nibble.

The Studies
Taubert's team signed up six men and seven women aged 55-64. All had just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure -- on average, systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 153 and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of 84.

Every day for two weeks, they ate a 100-gram candy bar and were asked to balance its 480 calories by not eating other foods similar in nutrients and calories. Half the patients got dark chocolate and half got white chocolate.

Those who ate dark chocolate had a significant drop in blood pressure (by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure). Those who ate white chocolate did not.

In the second study, Serafini's team signed up seven healthy women and five healthy men aged 25-35. On different days they each ate 100 grams of dark chocolate by itself, 100 grams of dark chocolate with a small glass of whole milk, or 200 grams of milk chocolate.

An hour later, those who ate dark chocolate alone had the most total antioxidants in their blood. And they had higher levels of epicatechin, a particularly healthy compound found in chocolate. The milk chocolate eaters had the lowest epicatechin levels of all.
Chocolate for Blood Pressure: Darker Is Better
What is it about dark chocolate? The answer is plant phenols -- cocoa phenols, to be exact. These compounds are known to lower blood pressure.

Chocolates made in Europe are generally richer in cocoa phenols than those made in the U.S. So if you're going to try this at home, remember: Darker is better.

Just remember to balance the calories. A 100-gram serving of Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Bar has 531 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you ate that much raw apple you'd only take in 52 calories. But then, you'd miss out on the delicious blood pressure benefit.

A hint: Don't replace healthy foods with chocolate. Most people's diets have plenty of sweets. Switch those for some chocolate if you're going to try the truffle treatment.

By Daniel J. DeNoon

WebMD Health News, Aug. 27, 2003

See also:
Why you should have a little dark chocolate every day

My Favorite Chocolate

Now, that's a hard choice.

There are so many delicious and delectable varieties.  I love SO many of them.  Especially when they are dark, very dark, but not too bitter.  And with a somewhat creamy texture, but not too rich.

But, I suppose my favorite chocolate would have to be something easily accessible in small portions and not too expensive, with a satisfying taste. 

So, for now that makes my choice Dove Dark Chocolate Promises. It meets all my criteria, and I can limit my portions while satisfying my craving.  Dove chocolates are labeled “silky smooth” and come with a nice little message inside the foil wrapper. Who doesn’t love that?

Yup. It's my favorite.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fifty-Five Facts on Chocolate

Chocolate is certainly the most popular confectionery on the planet. We consume it with a passion, in extraordinary amounts, but just how much do we know about chocolate?

Here are some interesting chocolate facts:

1. Research suggests that chocolate was originally used more than 2,500 years ago, beginning in Central America. The Mayan civilization considered cacao to be a divine gift and so, it was held in high regard. It was used ceremoniously and sometimes as a form of currency. The name 'cacao' is a Mayan word meaning 'god food' which after being introduced to Europe in the 16th century, formed the basis of the Latin name for the cacao tree 'Theobrama Cacao' meaning 'food for the gods'. It is thought that the word 'cocoa' has come about through a miss-spelling of 'cacao.'

2. The name chocolate comes from the Aztec word xocalati meaning bitter water. Not surprising, considering they made a drink, by mixing cacao beans with chillies, achiote, cornmeal, and some reports suggest the inclusion hallucinogenic mushrooms (probably helped to get over the taste).

3. More than 66 percent of the worlds cacao is produced in Africa and 98 percent of the worlds cocoa is produced by just 15 countries.

4. More than twice as many women than men eat and crave chocolate.

5. It is observed that chocolate cravings cannot be satisfied by any sweet/candy other than chocolate itself.

6. Chocolate produces the effects of a mild anti-depressant by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain.

7. Chocolate contains a small quantity of caffeine that emulates a mild amphetamine.

8. Although not scientifically proven, chocolate is believed by many, to be an aphrodisiac. The theory is supported by the fact that chocolate does contain among many chemicals the stimulants: caffeine, theobromine, and phenyethylamine.

9. Cocoa butter is a by-product produced from the crushing of roasted cacao beans, and although used in the chocolate making process, it is also used in a number of cosmetic products including massage oils and skin cosmetics. It is one of the most stable, highly concentrated natural fats known. It melts at just below average body temperature and therefore it is easily dissolved into the skin, making it the ideal foundation in moisturizing creams and other such products.

10. On the fourth visit of Christopher Columbus to the Americas, he presented cocoa beans to the Spanish Court. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle were not impressed and dismissed the chocolate as bizarre tribal concoctions.

11. The biggest chocolate structure ever made was a 4,484lb, 10 foot tall, Easter egg, made in Melbourne Australia.

12. 17,000 people in Belgium work in the chocolate industry

13. Despite being high in fat content, chocolate doesn't appear to raise blood cholesterol levels.

14. Allergies to chocolate are uncommon.

15. Almost half the world's chocolate is consumed in America.

16. Napoleon always carried chocolate with him, which he ate as a pick-me-up whenever he needed an energy boost.

17. A cocoa pod contains an average of about 42 beans. It takes up to 270 cocoa beans to make a pound of chocolate.

18. More than 7 billion chocolate chips are eaten annually.

19. Ninety percent of the world’s cacao is grown on small family run farms, no larger than 12 acres.

20. In 2006, more than 6.5 million tons of chocolate was traded worldwide, and consumers spent more than $7,000,000 a year on chocolate related products.

21. The first recorded “Death by Chocolate” case occurred in the 17th Century in Chiapas, Mexico. Upper class Spaniards were so addicted to chocolate that they refused to adhere to a church dictated chocolate ban that forbade them from eating or drinking any food during the church services. As a result, the people of the town refused not only listen to the ban but chose to attend worship services in convents instead. The Bishop who passed the law was later found dead due to poison being mixed into his daily cup of chocolate.

22. The biggest bar of chocolate ever made was created in 2000 and weighed 5,000 pounds. Turin is the city in Italy that can be proud of this accomplishment.

23. Americans eat an average of 22 pounds of candy each year, or approximately 2.8 billion pounds annually which is split almost equally between chocolate and candy. Most Europeans consume far less than this.

24. While the US produces the most chocolate and consume the most pounds every year, the Swiss consume the most per capita, followed closely by the English.

25. Besides the obvious cheese and ice cream industries, American chocolate manufacturers use about 1.5 billion pounds of milk and consume approximately 3.5 million pounds of whole milk yearly.

26. Chocolate manufacturers currently use 40% of the world’s almonds and 20% of the world’s peanuts.

27. Chocolate is technically responsible for the microwave. Scientists were experimenting with micro waves in hopes of creating better radar detectors and in the wake of World War II, scientists were testing devices called magnetrons. A scientist named Percy Spencer entered the lab with a chocolate bar in his pocket and realized it quickly began to melt. Spencer then realized that the magnetron could potentially be used to cook food. He successfully tried popping corn and then attempted to cook an egg which cooked so quickly, it blew up in his face.

28. Every Russian and American space voyage has included chocolate bars.

29. Cacao is a tree, native to South America, whose seeds are the source of cocoa and chocolate.

30. Botanists believe that cacao trees grew wild in the Amazon region , however, the use of the cacao tree, for culinary purposes, did not begin until it reached the lush tropical lowlands of southern Mexico over 3000 years ago.

31. The oldest known civilization of the Americas (1500 - 400 B.C.), The Olmecs, were probably the first users of cacao.

32. Though few records survived, recent linguistic findings suggest the word "cacao" is derived from the word Kakawa in Mixe-Zoquean, believed to have been their language.

33. Cacao beans were so valuable in ancient Mexico that the Maya and subsequent Aztec and Toltec civilizations used them as a means of currency to pay for commodities and taxes.

34. Cocoa, a rare and expensive commodity, had been introduced in Central Europe via Spain as early as the 1600’s but it wasn’t until 1765 that the first chocolate factory was established in the United States.

35. In 1765, the company, Walter Baker Chocolate, was founded by Dr. James Baker and his chocolate maker John Hannon, in a converted wooden mill on the banks of the Neponset River in Massachusetts and thus the term “Baking Chocolate” came into being.

36. Chocolate was such as a prestigious luxury that the French Ruler, Louis XIV, also known as the “Sun King”, established a court position entitled Royal Chocolate Maker to the King.

37. In 1828, cocoa in a powdered format became widely available. This allowed chocolate to become mass produced and widely available during Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth (19th) century.

38. In 1849 during the “Gold Rush” of San Francisco, Dominbro Ghirardelli of Italy began making chocolate. His original factory still stands at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, CA.

39. In 1868, a Parisian named Etienne Guittard arrived in California and started the Guittard Chocolate Company which is still in operation.

40. 1871 was a landmark year for American Chocolate as Milton Hershey, at the age of nineteen (19), founded his company in Pennsylvania.

41. In 1875, Milk Chocolate was introduced. After over eight (8) years of experimentation, Daniel Peter of Switzerland created this concoction. He sold his creation to his neighbor, Henri Nestle, and thus Nestle Chocolate came into being.

42. In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt, the founder of Lindt Chocolates, invented the process of “conching” which is used to refine chocolate thus enhancing it’s quality.

43. In 1896, the recipe for chocolate brownies, an American snack food staple, was introduced in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

44. In 1907, the iconic Milk Chocolate Hershey's Kisses were introduced. They are one of the most successful chocolates and Hershey produces approximately 20-25 million per day in a variety of flavors.

45. In 1913, a process was invented by a Swiss Confectioner named Jules Sechaud that allowed chocolates to have unique fillings.

46. The original 3 Musketeers Bar of the 1930s had three parts: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. It became all chocolate in the 1940s and the formula remains the same to this day.

47. In 1938, Nestle Crunch was introduced. It was the first chocolate bar to combine milk chocolate and crunchy crisps to create a sensory eating experience that blended taste, texture and sound.

48. In 1939, Nestle introduced Chocolate Chips.

49. During the Second World War, the U.S. Government commissioned Milton Hershey to create a candy bar to be included in soldier’s rations. The candy bar chosen was the famous Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar. So successful was this collaboration, Hershey Chocolate was called upon during the Persian Gulf War to create a chocolate bar that could withstand high temperatures.

50. In 1960, Chocolate syrup was used to simulate blood in the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “Psycho”. The scene, featuring Janet Leigh, took over seven (7) days to shoot.

51. In the U.S., the Midwest and the Northeast consume more candy per region than the South, Southwest, West or Mid-Atlantic states.

52. Chocolate manufacturers currently use forty (40) % of the world's almonds and twenty (20) % of the world's peanuts.

53. The average commercial dark chocolate contains about 60 percent cacao and has been found to contain 536 milligrams of flavonoids per 1.4-ounce serving. Research has shown that as few as 80 milligrams of flavonoids a day can lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease.

54. It's a common misconception that chocolate is packed with caffeine. In reality, the amount of caffeine in chocolate is miniscule compared to what's in other daily pick-me-ups. An ounce of dark chocolate contains about 20 milligrams of caffeine, while an ounce of milk chocolate contains about 5 milligrams—the same as an 8-ounce cup of decaf coffee. In comparison, a cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams and a cup of tea contains about 50 milligrams of caffeine.

55. The world's most popular chocolate brand is Ferrero Rocher, Italian made roasted specialties. The Ferrero Rocher wafer is covered with milk constituents, and encased with caramel toppings and other selectivity.

The top ten chocolate brands include:
1. Ferrero Rocher
2. Lindt & Spr√ľngli
3. Ghirardelli
4. Guylian
5. Patchi
6. Toblerone
7. Cadbury
8. Galaxy
9. Mars
10. Kit Kat

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chocolate Protects Against Stroke

You know when Swedish scientists do a study, you'd better listen.  They study everything it seems.  And now the latest, joyful news for chocolate lovers:

A small piece of chocolate a day lessens the risk of getting stroke in men with all of 20 percent, according to a study done at the Karolinska Institute. And for the first time, researchers say that it doesn’t have to be dark chocolate, that dark chocolate can be good for us, is known previously. The latest study, which included 37 000 men, shows that light as well as dark chocolate protect men against stroke. The research team asked the men, ages 49-75, to fill in a questionnaire about their food habits, and included were questions regarding how often and how much chocolate they consumed. Ten years later, as the researchers put their answers together with the Socialstyrelsen’s (The National Board of Health and Welfare) patient register, nearly 2000 of the men had suffered a stroke. And it turns out stroke is more common among those who abstained from chocolate. The men who ate the most chocolate, around half a bar of chocolate a week, had the least risk of suffering a stroke. “We have no proof that eating more chocolate than that is good. If you do, you might gain weight, which in turn increases your risk for disease. It makes no difference if you eat a little bit every day or all at once,” says Susanna Larsson, researcher and nutritional epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institute in an article in daily Dagens Nyheter. The scientists can’t yet explain the link between chocolate and the decreased risk of suffering stroke. But the most likely reason they say is that chocolate includes so-called flavonoids, a type of antioxidants that protect the blood vessels. According to Larsson more studies are needed before a daily dose of the delicacy can be recommended. “But it feels good already to be able to refute those who believe that chocolate is unhealthy,” she says.

So, therefore, I will now take a bite of chocolate to continue my campaign (didn't even know I had one until now!) against getting a stroke.  Healthy never tasted so good.  Slurp!