Our complicated relationship with the ultimate sweet treat
A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips, or so they say, but it’s impossible to deny that those moments really are sweeter with a piece of chocolate on-hand.
With a 4,000 year history dating back to the discovery of the cocoa plant in Mesoamerica, present day South America, cocoa was once considered a valuable, luxurious commodity, used as medicine, currency, funeral offerings and aphrodisiacs over millennia. Montezuma II, an Aztec king, was rumoured to drink about 50 cups of cocoa a day, the palace of Versailles had full time ‘chocolate frothers’ under king Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and some soldiers in the American Civil War were paid in chocolate instead of money. So when did it become a ‘guilty pleasure’ and why?
As is usually the case, too much of a good thing is a bad idea, and when the industrial revolution brought about mass production in the 1800s it opened the door for the chocolate industry to boom and grow in new, delicious, and unhealthier directions. Cue milk chocolate, white chocolate, and a whole host of other chocolate variants that, while absolutely heavenly, are loaded with synthetic ingredients and sugar. The good news is that chocolate can still have a place in your diet, particularly if you prefer the darker variant, and it is linked to several health benefits.
There’s a reason that chocolate is a treat so synonymous with romance and love, dating all the way back to the Mayans believing cocoa was a gift from their fertility god. It’s been scientifically proven that consuming chocolate can help get you in the mood for all sorts of things. Dark chocolate contains the chemicals phenylethylamine and serotonin which are linked to improved moods and arousal, and there are other physical benefits too…
Consumed in small doses, the antioxidants in dark chocolate are good for your skin and can also lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of clotting and improve blood circulation to the heart. The more bitter the chocolate is, and the higher the cocoa percentage, the more antioxidants it contains. Dark chocolate is also rich in fiber, this means you’re full for longer and not as likely to reach for another snack soon.
I’ve always been a believer that moderation is key in all things, and I feel the same way about chocolate. Instead of associating the sweet treat with words like ‘guilty’ and ‘naughty’, why not find a common ground with this beloved substance. You can’t go wrong with swopping your sugary confectioneries for a darker, healthier chocolate option and allowing yourself some leeway when you get that dreaded sugar craving. Studies have proven time and time again that allowing ourselves a little indulgence every now and then is better in the long term than going cold turkey and depriving ourselves, inevitably leading to that oh-so-guilty binge when we eventually give in. You can have your (dark) chocolate and eat it too.