, Gloucester, MA

January 11, 2013

Good and bad of chocolate

Science says it improves cognition, but raises osteoporosis risk

Senior Lookout
Anne Springer

---- — In January, people make resolutions to lose weight, give up sweets, and exercise more, all with the best intentions. Then, somewhere around mid-February, Valentine’s Day makes us forget it all as we sink into the decadent world of chocolate consumption. Milk chocolate, white chocolate, semi-sweet, and dark chocolate are all around us it seems.

So, if we fall off the proverbial wagon come next month, and give in to our weakness for it, should we be concerned that we’re doing something that isn’t good for us? At least one study found that women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate per week reduced their stroke risk. Another study found that regular chocolate consumption reduced the risk for diabetes. And, one component of chocolate, theobromine (the chemical that actually makes chocolate dangerous for dogs and cats to eat), seems to calm persistent coughing. People often feel good after eating chocolate, and that may have to do with the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates feelings of well-being and happiness.

So, what is chocolate? Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted beans (seeds) of the cacao tree, which is native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Without sweetening, the taste of chocolate is quite bitter, so the product we are familiar with has been sweetened, as has been the case, in various ways, for hundreds of years. Originally, people used chocolate as a drink, eventually learning to process it into solid confections of all kinds.

White chocolate, which is not considered chocolate in some parts of the world because it contains no cocoa solids, is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids. It was first introduced by Hebert Candies of Shrewsbury in 1955, and first produced in the United States by Mars Inc., according to Wikipedia.

Although we give chocolate as a Valentine’s Day gift, its purported aphrodisiac effects have yet to be verified. But, polyphenols in chocolate are thought to be helpful in preventing coronary artery disease, so perhaps eating it can help us live and love longer.

Of course, too much of anything can be harmful, and the consumption of too much of the sweet stuff, without a corresponding amount of exercise, can certainly lead to obesity. Just nine milk chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, one of America’s best-recognized chocolate candies, will add 200 calories to your daily intake, and 100 of those are from fat. The same nine Hershey’s Dark Kisses will add 180 calories.

While dark chocolate is a bit less fattening, and may actually help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve cognition, it has also been associated, in one study, with increased risk for osteoporosis in the aging.

We so want chocolate to be good for us, and in limited quantities it probably is. But, given our desire to have it be OK to satisfy our cravings for the wonderful stuff, it isn’t surprising that the Pegasus Award for best comedy song in 2008 went to Graham Leathers’ 2005 creation called “Chocolate is a Vegetable.” And, it is a vegetable, right? After all, it’s made from beans.

Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.