The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 9, 2000

By Anup Deb Nath

HEALTH conscious people try to exercise regularly, sleep at least eight hours a day and aim at eating nutritious food. Fried food, sweets and other fattening foods that are considered to be bad for the health are ruthlessly discarded, especially by those on a health mission. Chocolate—in all its forms—is possibly considered the biggest culprit of all.

Chocolates whether they are put into puddings or shakes, in ice creams or eaten as such, are on the favourite list of many people and this love for chocolates crosses all age barriers.

In India, chocolate is still a luxury because its high price restricts its consumption to the higher income groups, but in the West it is liked by one and all. A recent survey found that 84 per cent of households in the USA keep and use chocolate in their homes regularly and out of this 86 per cent eat chocolate once a week or more.

  Even though adults and children, irrespective of their age, love this delight, it is something that we desist from eating. Chocolate has been accused of causing acne, tooth decay, and of containing high levels of caffeine.

Though neither any doctor nor dentist will recommend chocolates while offering healthy food options, there is good news for those who love chocolate and find them difficult to resist. Over the years, researchers have tried to establish a link between skin problems such as acne and chocolate and they have failed to come up with any concrete evidence. A poor and unbalanced diet rather than chocolate is said to be the cause of unhealthy skin and pimples.

Chocolates are also said to be a tooth’s enemy and a dentist’s best friend. Sugar, it has been proven, can cause teeth to decay but researchers have found that the milk content in the milk chocolates may offset, to an extent, the effect of sugar. The reason for this is that the fats present in the milk may prevent the sugar from staying on the teeth and thereby reducing its harmful effect on the teeth enamel. Along with this, researchers have found that cocoa powder from where chocolate is obtained possesses a decay-inhibiting property that actually blocks plaque production which is the first stage of tooth decay.

Caffeine occurs naturally in the cocoa bean but it is found in very small amounts. Coffee, tea, and aerated cola drinks contain far more caffeine than chocolate does. To get the same amount of caffeine as that present in one cup of coffee, you would have to eat 17 bars of chocolate. Even the aerated colas that we drink so readily and allow our children to drink, contain more caffeine than chocolates.

Contrary to what most people, particularly mothers, feel, chocolate is not junk food. In fact, most children seem to like the flavour of chocolate instinctively and this is one way of making fussy eaters put something into their stomachs.

The benefits of chocolate are many; it has a high concentration of nutrition that can be easily assimilated by the body. Chocolate is used a lot by people who undertake a lot of physical activity or exercise. One oz or 28 gm of plain chocolate provides one-twelfth of the daily requirement of iron by the body. Chocolate also forms an integral part of army rations to be used in high altitude areas or during a war. Many mountaineers carry chocolate with them as routine food.

Chocolate also contains many minerals and salts, which are at par with other foods like phosphorous and potassium as well as the calcium derived from the milk in milk chocolate candies.

This feature was published on January 2 1999

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