Chocolate – Naughty Treat, or Nutritional Gem?

        If you’re not sure what to buy someone as a gift, you’ll find a very safe bet in chocolate. Often referred to as the queen of confectionery world, chocolate is a firm favourite with children across the globe, as it is for adults too (in moderation, of course). In fact, it is rare to find someone who does not eat chocolate at all – many will say they cannot live without it and others, for whom it is not a favourite, still find it to be appetising.

        In today’s healthy society, adults feel compelled to tell children that it is not good to eat chocolate, because their teeth will fall out, they will become ill, they will develop acne, or some other baseless menacing argument to strike fear into them.

        Chocolate has played a key role in the lives of many for millennia, be it as a foodstuff, a drink, for smoking or for use in magic rituals – wherever you go and whatever language is spoken, people will all recognise chocolate. The production of chocolate became widespread within the Maya and Aztec civilisations, with secret recipes being passed down through the generations. However, the chocolate as they would have known it would not be recognisable to us today.

        In these ancient civilisations, there was no use of sugar in the production of chocolate – resulting in a bitter, rich chocolate. Legend has it that sugar was integrated into the production process by accident.

        The cook in the kitchens of Marshal du Plessis-Praslin, a sugar industrialist of the late 17th Century, had developed the idea of the ‘pralin’ – whole almonds individually coated in caramelised sugar – named in honour of the Duke. At this time, although the New World had been discovered and settled, chocolate-producing cocoa was not widely used in European cooking. However, the cook did start producing chocolate in his kitchen.

        On one occasion, the cook accidentally mixed his ‘pralin’ into the chocolate mixture. The resulting ‘chocolat praliné’ was presented to the Comte du Plessis-Praslin who was astounded by this new dessert. Thus, the concept of the Chocolate Praline was born.

       In time, further experimentation with the production process and use of other ingredients resulted in the creation of the great variety of chocolates that we know and love today, from milk chocolate to dark chocolate, soft centred or solid. Furthermore, with the invention of new technology over the ages, the confectionery industry has really seen a boom in the manufacture of chocolate and chocolate products.

        Without a doubt, chocolate has conquered and continues to conquer the world. But along the way many mistruths have arisen about chocolate. Let’s consider some of these.


Truths and mistruths about Chocolate

        One of the primary misconceptions about chocolate is that it is unhealthy due to a high level of caffeine. In fact, chocolate contains 75% less caffeine than a cup of coffee.  Some people believe that eating sugary chocolate will lead to weight gain. However, providing a high enough level of physical activity is maintained, eating chocolate will not have any negative effects.

        Especially beneficial are the ‘darker’ varieties of chocolate, which contain more of the cocoa solids. It has become particularly popular with the health-conscious. Being rich in so-called “positive cholesterol”, dark chocolate also contains a vast amount of mineral salts which greatly contribute to the remineralisation and revitalisation of the body. The more bitter varieties of dark chocolate are extremely rich in Iron, comparable to a portion of red meat. There are even varieties of chocolate specifically for diabetics, in which the sugar is substituted with an artificial sweetener.


The Conclusion?

        So can we say that chocolate is beneficial in our diet? Indeed it is! Recent scientific studies have shown that the intake of chocolate correlates to positive effects on blood pressure levels, circulation and heart health, being naturally high in anti-oxidants. Small amounts of chocolate also induce stronger concentration and other mental faculties.

        Due to its high energy value, chocolate – especially the darker varieties – is useful to those with physically demanding jobs. Due to its high calcium concentrations, chocolate helps with muscle contraction, including the heart muscles, and encourages enzymatic processes in our body. Furthermore, chocolate contains certain alkaloids such as theobromine and caffeine with stimulate the kidneys and brain respectively.

        So, having weighed the evidence, we can rightly assert that chocolate, especially in its darker and more concentrated varieties,  is a nutritional gem beneficial to both mind and body.


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