It all began with the ancient Olmecs, Aztecs and Incas, who discovered cocoa possessed properties that nourished and invigorated the body. Warriors were allotted rations of chocolate to restore their physical strength and renew their spirits. Emperors were rumoured to use more than their fair share, necessitated by their need to satisfy the appetites of many a concubine. For these ancient civilizations as well as others to follow, chocolate was divine ambrosia, a potion of love or an aphrodisiac. Cocoa and chocolate have been used in an astonishing variety of ways: it was and still is considered a powerful aphrodisiac in many cultures; early Catholics consumed a cocoa beverage while fasting in 17th century Europe; and it was known as a sweetening ingredient in many an apothecaries’ potions. From courtesans to the Pope, it seems almost all cultures have had an infatuation, if not an obsession with this powerful beverage. It now appears that many of the ancients intuited correctly, because, recent scientific studies are indicating that modest quantities of cocoa and dark chocolate may be beneficial to our health and well being. Flavourful, yet containing a wide range of nutrients, cocoa also possesses proven mood enhancing properties.
The virtues of chocolate
When prepared with all natural ingredients and modest amounts of sugar, chocolate is a fairly healthy food. Despite this fact, it has gained a reputation for being extremely unhealthy. This bad rap stems primarily from mass produced brands, which typically use excessive quantities of sugar and artificial ingredients, and from over consumption by many consumers. Chocolate reinvigorates us physically as a result of its carbohydrate content, but also because it contains certain active substances associated with increased energy and focus. Chemical analysis reveals chocolate contains theobromine, caffeine, phenyl-ethylamine and serotonin. Theobromine stimulates the central nervous system, assisting physical effort, and strengthening cardiac activity. For athletically inclined people, the caffeine content encourages mental activity and counteracts tiredness. Phenyl-ethylamine also appears to stimulate our brains. Serotonin, which is known to prevent depression, suggests chocolate has an anti-depressant effect.
Supporting scientific studies
We had to wait until the end of the 20th century and the development of medico-alimentary studies to affirm the benefits of many of our daily foods. Cocoa is increasingly tested in laboratory experiments to ascertain its physiological and psychological benefits. French, American and Canadian scientific studies have shown that dark chocolate and cocoa can have a therapeutic effect on our hearts, encourage blood circulation and reduce cholesterol. Of course, to be of optimum benefit, chocolate consumption should be limited to all natural varieties, should be consumed in modest quantities, and should be a component of an overall healthy, balanced diet along with an active, healthy lifestyle.