February makes me think of- and crave – that brown, creamy wonder of wonders. Chocolate.
Unfortunately, some react to it like Hitler walked into the room, clutching their chest and sounding a hefty gasp.
Unless you’ve got a sensitivity to it or your doc has advised you to stay away, chocolate is no bad guy. Yet, too much of anything isn’t a good idea. Like too much broccoli. Yeah.
Cocoa pods, the fruit that hangs from cacao trees, flourish in tropical climates such as Central and South America, parts of Africa and Asia. Tucked inside these pods are creamy covered seeds which, when fermented, dried and crushed into a paste, are used to make chocolate. Cocoa butter is the vegetable oil derived from the cacao beans. Cocoa powder is produced when cocoa butter is removed.
The pre-Olmec peoples of Central America were known to have harvested the cacao trees around 1000 B.C. They created a brown, liquid drink out of the cocoa seeds and referred to it as ‘food for the gods’. In the early sixteenth century, explorers brought the cacao seeds to Spain. From there, the precious pods spread throughout Europe (1).
Once that chocolate liquid mingled with sugar, cocoa butter and, sometime later, with condensed milk, it transformed from a bitter concoction to a sweet and irresistible confection.
And ladies, just like denim jeans, chocolate is here to stay.
So, if you love chocolate as much as I do, but are concerned about over-indulging, then you’ve got to dance the dance. Through learning a few chocolate facts, I’ve learned to partner well with this amazing confection.
~If you’re needing to keep a rein on your daily total fat intake, but enjoy chocolate too much to eliminate it from your diet, simply limit other fats throughout the day (margarine, olives, nuts or chips, dressings, etc.). That way, you can make room for the chocolate you crave without feeling guilty about it.
~In addition to the amount of fat (in grams) per serving (this varies significantly), pay attention to the fat source. In addition to natural cocoa butter, it’s not unusual for harmful, hydrogenated oils or other fat solids to niggle their way into what could have been a ‘not-so-bad-for you’ indulgence.
~Cacao offers a rich supply of flavonoids. Notable cardiovascular health benefits have been discovered within this family of bioactive, antioxidant compounds (2, 3). When able, indulge in a darker, lower sugar chocolate bar that contains at least 70% cacao (4).
~Cacao contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid which is a precursor to the brain neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin regulates mood and sleep and can reduce irritability (5). Can I get an amen?
Fun Chocolate Facts
~Twenty-two pounds of chocolate are eaten per person each year in Switzerland. Australia and Ireland follow with twenty pounds and nineteen pounds per person, respectively. The United States comes in at eleventh place, with approximately twelve pounds of chocolate eaten by each person every year (6).
~Hershey’s produces over 70 million chocolate Kisses every day (6).
~In Mayan civilization, cacao beans were the currency. Goods could be priced in units of cacao: a slave cost one hundred beans, and a turkey cost twenty beans, and the services of a prostitute cost ten beans (6). Sheesh! To be exchanged for ten beans when Jesus gave His life!
When that dreamy chocolate bar or heart-shaped Valentine box makes its grand appearance in your life this month, dry your palms, take it in hand with confidence and enjoy the dance.
2) Taubert D, Roesen R, Lehmann C, Jung N, Schömig E.Effects of low habitual cocoa intake on blood pressure and bioactive nitric oxide: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2007 Jul 4; 298(1): 49-60
3) Shiina Y, Funabashi N, Lee K, Murayama T, Nakamura K, Wakatsuki Y, Daimon M, Komuro I. Acute effect of oral flavonoid-rich dark chocolate intake on coronary circulation, as compared with non-flavonoid white chocolate, by transthoracic Doppler echocardiography in healthy adults. Int J Cardiol. 2009 Jan 24; 131(3): 424-9
Mary Albers Felkins, author of Christian contemporary romance
FB Mary Albers Felkins