…and what to do about it.
Please note: This article will not tell you how to to give up chocolate, that’s not the point.
The “Chocoholic”, as defined by Google and the English Oxford Dictionary reads: ‘A person who is addicted to, or very fond of, chocolate’, Wikipedia goes on to state: ‘A chocoholic is a person who craves or compulsively consumes chocolate.’ Sound familiar? There is even evidence to support this theory.
Is a hard one to define as it changes from person to person. But a somewhat generic definition is ‘a condition that results when a person ingests a substance, or engages in an activity, that can be pleasurable, but with continued use becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, and sometimes health.’ Definitions can be broken down further, from physical addiction, to an overreaction of the brain to substances (or cues associated with the substances).
Interestingly though, addictive behaviour is nearly always attributed in reaction to stress, and when it comes to easily accessible every day substances; sugar, caffeine and alcohol are the most readily available and most easily addictive. Yes, I said sugar is an addictive substance, coincidentally it’s also the primary ingredients in confectionery and chocolate, hence why there is often the belief that all chocolate is bad for you and addictive. In fact it is more the type of chocolate and the amount of sugar involved that determines whether or not / how addictive it is…and also what mood you’re in.
Studies have shown sugar to be more more addictive to the brain than cocaine, and when [sugar] combined with fats that craving worsens. Which is why some people frequently find themselves surrounded by empty purple chocolate bar wrappers, and are left feeling a deep sense of defeat as they realise they have just eaten the ‘family size’ bar in one sitting when they should have gone to zumba class!
Is hard, I know. But anyone who is a keen, or recreational sportsperson may have noticed chocolate, or more importantly it’s base ingredient cocoa is cropping up more and more in sports and nutrition drinks and snacks. And the great news is you can easily incorporate it into your own home made healthy snacks; whether it’s flapjack with honey, oats and cocoa nibs, or a chocolate milk, pre or post workout, consuming a healthy snack with cacao nibs or drinking a chocolate milk containing good quality cocoa powder (sorry, Nesquik doesn’t count) has been shown to improve your body’s recovery. Cacao relaxes tense muscles and reduces oxidative stress post workout.
Even if you’re not a running fanatic or really couldn’t give a hoot about that sweat inducing spin class, even getting out for a brisk walk 20 minutes each day can count, and if you march around fast enough you can build up quite an appetite, and sweat! Then to help you recover from the exertion you can snack on or sip on your favourite cocoa infused treat afterwards to reward you for your hard work.
Make your own chocolate milk for more health benefits: One glass milk (goats, almond, coconut if you’re lactose free), one tablespoon cocoa powder and a tablespoon of honey is all you need.
Gone are the simple days of ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ – a term originating in Wales in 1866, and initially referring to consuming any fruit a day to stay healthy, not necessarily an apple. Fast-forward to the 21st century and trying to work out what’s best for your body now is a minefield. Cue good quality, dark chocolate. When most people think of dark chocolate they immediately think of Bourneville and either want to run screaming from the room and hide, or devour the bar in one gulp, and then run screaming from the room. Good quality dark chocolate should never be just bitter, over 500 flavours can be detected in quality dark chocolate bars, with a whole range of chocolate makers now listing tasting notes on their packaging.
When really tasting chocolate it’s important to engage all 5 senses in the process, head to yesterday’s post on chocolate tasting to find out more. You may pick up flavour notes ranging from mango, to raspberries, honey or even wine. But don’t despair if you’re a little too nervous to explore the dark side yet, milk chocolate has it’s place too and does contain some nutritional value.
The Devil in Disguise
With those smooth rounded corners and purple wrapper, it is actually just confectionery masquerading as a chocolate bar. Yes, there are certain chocolate bars out there that by UK and EU standards are technically not chocolate, so are actually classed as a confection. EU rules state all chocolate must contain at least 32% cocoa solids in order to be considered chocolate, for the UK that’s 25% and the US a measly 10% of the chocolate bar actually has to be chocolate. Meaning the rest of it is predominantly sugar, alternative vegetable fats, a bit of vanilla (usually fake ‘vanillin’ essence or flavouring), and some milk solids if it’s a milk chocolate.
It’s also good to check what makes up the fat content even if it’s a dark chocolate bar, as many companies scrimp on the cost of cocoa butter by chucking in palm oil instead (masked and marketed as ‘vegetable oil’ or ‘sustainable vegetable fat’), which coats the tongue and prevents you from fully appreciating all the subtle flavours of the chocolate. It’s also very damaging to the environment, and is creeping it’s way into everything on the supermarket shelves…including bread?!? Although research has been done into potential health benefits of palm oil, and much more can be done in terms of farmer livelihoods and forest protection in producing countries, when it comes to chocolate, the shorter the ingredients list, the better. It should read something like this: cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla (and occasionally soya lecithin).
What do I do Now?
Don’t despair as you wander aimlessly around the ‘chocolate and buiscuits’ aisle like a tit in a trance, dragging yourself away from that Crème Egg, with a tear in your eye (they’ve changed the recipe anyway, so it’s just not worth it!). Take this opportunity to reassess your relationship with chocolate. Substitute that purple shiny wrapped bar for something smaller, but with more flavour, if you’re not ready to join the Dark Side just yet then go for an M&S 45% ‘dark milk’ bar, or Willies’ Cacao ‘Milk of the Gods’, even Hotel Chocolat are now doing an 80% ‘SuperMilk’ bar with 80% cocoa solids balanced beautifully with the inclusion of milk solids. When you’re ready to branch out into the darker bars, explore small batch makers, look for different origins, experiment; try a bar from a location you’ve never heard of before and see if you like the flavour notes.
Remember life’s a journey, an adventure, made all the more healthy and exciting when quality chocolate is involved.
PLEASE NOTE: I don’t write my posts for money and all opinions stated here are my own and based on personal experience. Please feel free to share your experiences with chocolate in the comments below.