We Love Chocolate.
This time of year, it’s impossible not to think of chocolate. The human fascination with the delectable dessert has been around for centuries-at least since the 1900s or 1500s B.C.E., when the Mokaya of Mexico were consuming chocolate as a drink.
People in what is now the U.S. may have been enjoying chocolate for the last 1200 years. Here’s a little history, and a look at why we as humans are so drawn to this delicious nutritional powerhouse.
Chocolate in North America
Last month, Tracy Watson reported the earliest known instances of chocolate in North America on Science Now. As far back as 1200 years ago, residents of what is now Utah may have been importing chocolate from thousands of miles away. The human fascination with this simple plant and the decadent treats it can produce is certainly ancient.
There is some skepticism among scientists about the archaeological claim. Chocolate only grows in the tropics and previous academic opinion has been that the people of the southwest around the 8th century C.E. had little contact with the Mesoamericans to the south. “Archaeologists have been looking for Mesoamerican connections… for 100 years,” archaeologist Robert hard of the University of Texas, San Antonio, told Watson. “I’m not convinced this is chocolate.”
The findings are the result of archaeological research by Dorothy Washburn of the University of Pennsylvania and her husband chemist William Washburn of Bristol-Myers Squibb. They detected theobromine and caffeine, both found in cacao beans, first in 11th century burial sites in Chaco Canyon of New Mexico, and then from Site 13 in Utah, which dates to about 770 C.E.
The health benefits of chocolate have been extolled for years, and new research backs up the claims. Chocolate may:
- · Be correlated with lower Body Mass Index (BMI), according to research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and reported in Huffington Post,
- · Decrease stroke risk, according to a Swedish study published in 2011,
- · Lower blood pressure, lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and decrease risk of heart disease for overall heart health, according to Huffington Post,
- · Increase insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to a small 2005 study,
- · Boost blood flow to the brain, possibly making you smarter, helping you stay alert, even potentially improving your vision, according to researchers at the University of Reading in a 2011 study, and
- · Quiet coughs. Theobromine, that key ingredient in chocolate found in prehistoric bowls, may reduce activity in the vagus nerve, the part of the brain that triggers coughs.The BBC reported in 2010 that researchers are working on a theobromine-based drug for persistent coughs.
Keeping Your Chocolate Habit Healthy
If you want to indulge the (healthy) urge, go for dark chocolate, which is high in fiber and can help you feel fuller so you eat less overall. Find chocolates with a high percentage of cacao and low percentage of added sugars and milk solids, so you’re not mixing the heart-healthy and anti-diabetic benefits of chocolate with the insulin-altering dangers of sugar. A little goes a long way!