How sweet it is

It’s more than a food, almost a drug.

Everyone who loves chocolate knows the truth of that statement – that chocolate not only tastes good, but affects how they feel in a way no other food does.

During a presentation at the Amherst Public Library last week, Dr. Michael Cross explained why we give chocolates to spark romance and then console ourselves with a double-fudge Ben & Jerry’s when the romance goes sour.

Cross, who teaches chemistry and forensic science at Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts, said humans are genetically programmed to like sugar, but that’s only part of chocolate’s appeal.

Other substances responsible for that addictive bliss include tryptophan, a raw material for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that gives feelings of well being, and anandamide (from the Sanscrit word meaning "bliss"), the neurotransmitter that helps provide a runner’s high.

And unlike drugs, chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has health benefits: antioxidents that fight the free radical cells that damage the body.

About 30 grams of dark chocolate is the recommended amount for the maximum health benefit, Cross said, comparable to "four little Dove bars."

Sadly, milk chocolate has only about a third of the antioxidents of dark, which is packed with good things.

that lower cholestrol, Cross said, prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, fight insulin resistance, improve blood flow to the cornea and alertness during cognitive tasks and reduce cravings for salty, fatty and sweet foods.

It’s also an anti-depressant.

"Look for brands that give the percentage of cocoa," he said, and named Lindt and Giardelli among his favorites.

Cross, who sprinkled his talk with jokes and magic tricks, touched on the history of chocolate, which began in the Mayan and other Mesoamerican civilizations. Aztecs believed that cacao beans were the "gift of the gods," and used them as a form of currency. In Mayan marriage ceremonies, the bride and groom drank a spicy chocolate drink together.

Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortes took cocoa back to Spain, "but it was not until they removed the chili and added sugar that everyone wanted it," Cross said.

By the mid-20th century, chocolate had become such a food staple that a survival bar especially created by the Hershey Chocolate Corporation was "tucked into the ration bag of every soldier."

The high-energy four-ounce bar was heat-resistant at high temperatures but tasted more like a potato than candy, Cross said, so that soldiers wouldn’t be tempted to eat it in non-emergency situations. Hershey received a special award from the Army and Navy.

Americans love chocolate, but we are by no means the biggest eaters – that distinction goes to Switzerland, followed by Germany and Norway.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

How sweet it is

It’s more than a food, almost a drug.

Everyone who loves chocolate knows the truth of that statement – that chocolate not only tastes good, but affects how they feel in a way no other food does.

During a presentation at the Amherst Public Library last week, Dr. Michael Cross explained why we give chocolates to spark romance and then console ourselves with a double-fudge Ben & Jerry’s when the romance goes sour.

Cross, who teaches chemistry and forensic science at Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts, said humans are genetically programmed to like sugar, but that’s only part of chocolate’s appeal.

Other substances responsible for that addictive bliss include tryptophan, a raw material for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that gives feelings of well being, and anandamide (from the Sanscrit word meaning "bliss"), the neurotransmitter that helps provide a runner’s high.

And unlike drugs, chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has health benefits: antioxidents that fight the free radical cells that damage the body.

About 30 grams of dark chocolate is the recommended amount for the maximum health benefit, Cross said, comparable to "four little Dove bars."

Sadly, milk chocolate has only about a third of the antioxidents of dark, which is packed with good things.

that lower cholestrol, Cross said, prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, fight insulin resistance, improve blood flow to the cornea and alertness during cognitive tasks and reduce cravings for salty, fatty and sweet foods.

It’s also an anti-depressant.

"Look for brands that give the percentage of cocoa," he said, and named Lindt and Giardelli among his favorites.

Cross, who sprinkled his talk with jokes and magic tricks, touched on the history of chocolate, which began in the Mayan and other Mesoamerican civilizations. Aztecs believed that cacao beans were the "gift of the gods," and used them as a form of currency. In Mayan marriage ceremonies, the bride and groom drank a spicy chocolate drink together.

Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortes took cocoa back to Spain, "but it was not until they removed the chili and added sugar that everyone wanted it," Cross said.

By the mid-20th century, chocolate had become such a food staple that a survival bar especially created by the Hershey Chocolate Corporation was "tucked into the ration bag of every soldier."

The high-energy four-ounce bar was heat-resistant at high temperatures but tasted more like a potato than candy, Cross said, so that soldiers wouldn’t be tempted to eat it in non-emergency situations. Hershey received a special award from the Army and Navy.

Americans love chocolate, but we are by no means the biggest eaters – that distinction goes to Switzerland, followed by Germany and Norway.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

How sweet it is

It’s more than a food, almost a drug.

Everyone who loves chocolate knows the truth of that statement – that chocolate not only tastes good, but affects how they feel in a way no other food does.

During a presentation at the Amherst Public Library last week, Dr. Michael Cross explained why we give chocolates to spark romance and then console ourselves with a double-fudge Ben & Jerry’s when the romance goes sour.

Cross, who teaches chemistry and forensic science at Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts, said humans are genetically programmed to like sugar, but that’s only part of chocolate’s appeal.

Other substances responsible for that addictive bliss include tryptophan, a raw material for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that gives feelings of well being, and anandamide (from the Sanscrit word meaning "bliss"), the neurotransmitter that helps provide a runner’s high.

And unlike drugs, chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has health benefits: antioxidents that fight the free radical cells that damage the body.

About 30 grams of dark chocolate is the recommended amount for the maximum health benefit, Cross said, comparable to "four little Dove bars."

Sadly, milk chocolate has only about a third of the antioxidents of dark, which is packed with good things.

that lower cholestrol, Cross said, prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, fight insulin resistance, improve blood flow to the cornea and alertness during cognitive tasks and reduce cravings for salty, fatty and sweet foods.

It’s also an anti-depressant.

"Look for brands that give the percentage of cocoa," he said, and named Lindt and Giardelli among his favorites.

Cross, who sprinkled his talk with jokes and magic tricks, touched on the history of chocolate, which began in the Mayan and other Mesoamerican civilizations. Aztecs believed that cacao beans were the "gift of the gods," and used them as a form of currency. In Mayan marriage ceremonies, the bride and groom drank a spicy chocolate drink together.

Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortes took cocoa back to Spain, "but it was not until they removed the chili and added sugar that everyone wanted it," Cross said.

By the mid-20th century, chocolate had become such a food staple that a survival bar especially created by the Hershey Chocolate Corporation was "tucked into the ration bag of every soldier."

The high-energy four-ounce bar was heat-resistant at high temperatures but tasted more like a potato than candy, Cross said, so that soldiers wouldn’t be tempted to eat it in non-emergency situations. Hershey received a special award from the Army and Navy.

Americans love chocolate, but we are by no means the biggest eaters – that distinction goes to Switzerland, followed by Germany and Norway.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.