By Richard Lawrence-Allen
Maintaining a nutritional and balanced diet is a great way to keep a health body, a healthy mind and improve overall mood. However, the occasional treat can also work wonders for morale as well! As frequent visitors to this blog will already know, our wonderful friends at The Work Perk will often send our staff some great goodies to try from various companies when they release new products. Last week we were treated to some gorgeous Cadbury’s chocolate!
Originating in ancient Mesoamerica, the Aztecs believed that cocoa beans, from which chocolate is made, were a gift from the God of Wisdom, Quetzalcoatl. As early as 450 BC, Aztecs would enjoy chocolate as a thick fermented drink, served bitter and mixed with corn puree or spices. They believed that the drink acted as both an aphrodisiac and a strength-giving elixir.
Chocolate was brought to Europe in the 16th century by Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors during their invasion of the Americas. It was in Europe where sugar was first added to imported, bitter cocoa beans and the chocolate that we all know and love today came to be. The popularity of chocolate rose quickly, first amongst the richer, ruling classes of European society, and later amongst the common people. By the 20th century chocolate became so well-loved that it was considered an essential ration in the US military for soldiers during periods of war.
Chocolate is most certainly a treat food, enjoyed by the vast majority of people around the globe. However, depending on the chocolate you choose, it does come with certain health benefits as well. Dark chocolate (chocolate with a high cocoa content) is loaded with antioxidants, chemicals capable of neutralising damaging free radicals within the body. Raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are one of the highest sources of antioxidants out of any food tested, including when measured against fruits such as blueberries and acai berries, fruits that are well-known for their high antioxidant content.
Moreover, some studies show that dark chocolate may aid in reducing high blood pressure, lower the risk factors of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels by increasing the availability of endothelial nitric oxide, as well as providing other cardiovascular boosts. It is also believed that dark chocolate may improve overall cognitive function and the health and durability of the skin. Studies into these claims aren’t always conclusive, so must be taken with a reasonable dose of scepticism, but evidence gathered so far is promising.
Chocolate is also known to elevate the mood, so a perfect pick-me-up for a long day in the office sometimes. Dark chocolate is known to stimulate the production of endorphins, chemicals that induce feelings of pleasure in the brain. Additionally, dark chocolate also contains serotonin, a commonly known antidepressant.
The potential health benefits of chocolate are many, and do not stop there, however it should be noted that these health benefits are associated most with dark chocolate, rather than milk or white chocolate. In fact, the darker the chocolate the more benefit you are likely to observe. Dark chocolate is often sold indicating the percentage of cocoa solids that it contains; the darkest chocolate contains the highest percentage of cocoa solids and as such, the more benefits you’re likely to reap. Cocoa solids contain flavonoids, the chemicals associated with the cardiovascular (as well as other) benefits of dark chocolate. Milk chocolate on the other hand contains relatively small amounts of cocoa solids and white chocolate has none at all.
Cadbury are a beloved UK-based confectioner, established in Birmingham in 1824 by John Cadbury, now owned by an American multinational company called Mondelez International. Cadbury became famous for introducing the Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar, with their iconic ‘glass and a half’ slogan indicating the extra milk content that the bar contained when compared to rival chocolate bars of the time. It was an instant success and is still sold widely today. While dark chocolate is likely to hold more health benefits, the taste is bitterer and less palatable to most, even with the sugar content that dark chocolate still contains.
In 2018, Cadbury did release a version of the Dairy Milk bar with 30% less sugar in an attempt to offer a healthier version of their delicious snack. Now, Cadbury have launched their Dark Milk bar, a darker version of their Dairy Milk bar, maintaining enough of a milk content to make it taste as creamy and rich as its brother but now with 40% cocoa solids. The Work Perk gave our staff some samples to try and they could not have been happier about it!
The important thing to remember with chocolate is that while there are health benefits there, moderation is important. Chocolate products typically have very high sugar and calorific content per 100g, so should be consumed as part of a health and well-balanced diet. That said, the benefits cannot be ignored, the mood boost is certainly tangible and a little treat every now and then is most definitely needed!