Nutrition Articles

Chocolate: A Not-So-Guilty Pleasure

A Love Affair with Good Reason

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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.
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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.

Member Comments

  • A_GAME
    Chocolate is soooooooooooooooo
    o yummy! It has anti-oxidants in it that can prevent cancer and heart disease! - 2/17/2014 5:45:34 PM
  • 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! - 11/4/2013 8:26:54 AM
  • 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. - 8/16/2013 5:55:51 AM
  • 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. - 7/31/2012 6:07:43 PM
  • 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! - 7/31/2012 11:57:10 AM
  • 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. - 7/31/2012 11:04:56 AM
  • 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:) - 7/31/2012 9:37:23 AM
  • Chocolate is one of my biggest weaknesses, but also one reason why I remain sane! Even with making smart food choices, I allow myself a small morsel of chocolate every now and then. And it tastes GREAT! I'm glad to know that its health benefits are discussed :-) Having worked in the chocolate industry for a holiday season, I also know the science behind the magical stuff, and have a deeper respect for it. And oddly enough, that did a lot to curb me from over-indulging! - 7/31/2012 7:37:05 AM
  • I have a similar experience - reputation of chocolate is worse than the effect it really has. I'm a dark chocolate convert, and like to go for Lindt 70% or 85%. The usual very sweet milk chocolate is not so appealing anymore.

    I've also discovered that taking a square or two off from a 100g bar of chocolate is easier, than to control portions with snack bars of milk chocolate. So now, I directly go for 100g bars of quality dark chocolate, and I enjoy it even more, then before. - 7/31/2012 1:01:52 AM
  • Dark Chocolate Covered Banana Babies (frozen chocolate covered bananas)! The perfect food. You can't eat it quickly, the chocolate is of the best, melt in your mouth quality, and it's half a banana. It doesn't get any better. - 12/24/2011 8:17:37 AM
  • SOARHEAD
    To increase my intake of dark chocolate to ejoy the discussed health benefits, yet keep calories to a minimum, I have started drinking home-spun hot chocolate. I ordered few bags of high end Dutch cocoa powder from an online gourmet chef site. Modifying a hot chocolate recipe from a leading US chocolate mfr, I used skimmed milk and half sugar, half Splenda. Also slightly increased the amount of cocoa powder. Incredibly delicious and hopefully a lot healthier than consuming equivalent volumes of chocolate bars (after all, moderation there is not easy...). - 11/29/2011 2:46:16 PM
  • I have been dating chocolate for a long time. The day I am in a healthy relationship I could easily give up chocolate. Ha, at least I think I could. - 6/29/2011 6:56:33 PM
  • TAMMYMCCOY1
    NO GUILT.... Dark Chocolater and high antioxidants check out the mxi.myvoffice.com
    /antioxidants The healthiest chocolate - 6/28/2011 8:15:52 AM
  • SILENTSGIRL
    I'm one of those strange unheard of women who is utterly disinterested in chocolate. When someone gives me a box of assorted chocolates, I go through it looking for those containing my true love (caramel) and give the rest to my chocolate-loving friends. If I were told I could never have it again, I'd shrug. A life without caramel, however? I'd cry a few tears over that.... - 6/27/2011 3:27:38 AM
  • I like the 70% and 85% dark chocolate prevably with almonds.This combo gets my motor running. - 6/26/2011 10:47:15 AM