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In Defence of Chocolate

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Uh, do you love chocolate as much as I do? I tend to serve it on a lovely looking porcelain plate from my favorite collection because I think it makes it taste better.

I sit on my comfy sofa, in my pajamas, a cup of nettle tea, and the "chocolate-tasting" experience begins.

I've found that when I do my chocolate tasting thing and engage each of my five senses without any of the guilt, the experience is much more enjoyable. Here's how I do it:

STEP 1: The first thing I'd do is to inspect it visually, to see if it has been exposed to heat damage which usually leaves white marks.

STEP 2: The next thing is touch. I'd feel the texture and the manufacturer's imprints. Then, I'd bring it close to one of my ears and break it in two, waiting to hear the "snap." A crisp sound tells a lot about the quality of the cocoa butter and how well it's been treated.

STEP 3: After this, I'd bring it close to my nose and enjoy the chocolaty smell. A trained nose can tell if it has more (or less) sugar in it!

STEP 4: And finally, I'd bite a tiny bit, chew it three or four times, and let it melt in my mouth. True cocoa butter melts with body temperature. "Fake" chocolate is the one where the cocoa butter has been replaced with a cheaper type of fat. Cocoa butter melts completely on your tongue with no waxy residue. Whereas other fats, such as palm tree oil, don't melt completely and leave a residue there.

STEP 5: Pure bliss! As I let it melt in my mouth, I'd be inundated by the chocolaty fragrance again. That's when I'd close my eyes and feel I'm in heaven!

It's not chocolate what you crave...

I haven't always enjoyed the experience without the guilt. I used to have one Kit Kat after another, until the mega-pack was empty, thinking "Hey, I should have bought some more." Today, knowing how I can truly enjoy my chocolate treat makes the Kit Kat taste terrible in comparison.

In Europe, any product that contains less than 25 percent of dry cocoa solids, more than five percent vegetable fats, excessive sugar and a long list of other ingredients and flavorings is not chocolate.

Most commercial chocolate (in there, my Kit Kats!) cannot actually be classified as such according to European directives and yet it is the Maltesers, Mars, Rolos and Celebrations that most of my clients tell me they crave or think they are addicted to.

It's not chocolate they crave and overeat. It's a highly palatable concoction of sugar and fat (present in all the above). If it's really chocolate you want, then a little goes a long way. Real dark chocolate has such an intense flavor that a few squares do the trick.

Did you know?

"Real" chocolate is a pain killer.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that mice don't respond as quickly to pain while they're eating chocolate. Also interesting to note: The study also found that drinking water also reduced pain!

"Real" chocolate is a UV filter.
Researchers at Germany's Heinrich Heine University exposed chocolate eaters to ultraviolet light and found that after 6 weeks, they had 15 percent less skin reddening than those who didn't eat it. "We believe the compounds in chocolate act as UV filters," says study leader Wilhelm Stahl. After 12 weeks, the chocolate eaters' skin was 16 percent denser and 42 percent less scaly.

"Real" chocolate gives you a mood makeover.
It's high in amino acids tryptophan and phenylalanine, which that have a unique property: they are precursors of serotonin (your natural Valium!) and adrenaline and dopamine which stimulate your brain's pleasure centers. In 1996, researchers discovered the amino acid anandamine in chocolate, a brain cannabinoids (the active ingredient in cannabis) -- talk about bliss and delight!

"Real" chocolate is a PMS fighter.
High in iron, magnesium and calcium -- the minerals that you should have more of near your period to reduce pain and inflammation.

The health benefits of chocolate don't stop there. Other healthful ingredients include polyphenols, a family of antioxidants that help increase good cholesterol, prevent heart disease and lower blood pressure.

I think I've made my case, and may you make one too by treating yourself with a luxe bar this week. I'll personally hunt mine at one of my favorite chocolatiers -- probably with some nuts in it... yummy!

Now, let me ask you:
1. What's your favorite chocolate? (white, milk or dark; bars or drinks; brands?)
2. Have you tried engaging your five senses when having some?
3. Are you willing to try and find out how much more enjoyable that feels?

I'd love to hear from you, so leave a comment!

Alejandra Ruani is the creator of Health Divas, a weekly blog that breaks down the psychology of weight control into simple, actionable steps, showing you exactly what works so you can start doing it yourself.

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