Fats and Antioxidants Cocoa beans, like all seeds, are rich in nutrients that support the plant embryo until it develops leaves and roots. They’re especially rich in saturated fats, which are notorious for contributing to raised blood cholesterol levels and therefore to the risk of heart disease. However, much of the saturated fat in cocoa butter is a particular fatty acid that the body immediately converts into an unsaturated one (stearic acid is converted to oleic acid). So chocolate is not thought to pose a risk to the heart. In fact, it may well be beneficial. Cocoa particles are a tremendously rich source of antioxidant phenolic compounds, which account for 8% of the weight of cocoa powder. The higher the cocoa solids content of a chocolate or candy, the higher its antioxidant content. Any added sugar, milk products, or cocoa butter simply dilute the cocoa solids and their phenolics. The dutching process also reduces the levels of desirable phenolics in cocoa powder, and the milk proteins in milk chocolate appear to bind to the same molecules and prevent us from absorbing them.
Caffeine and Theobromine Chocolate contains two related alkaloids, theobromine and caffeine, in the ratio of about 10 to 1. Theobromine is a weaker stimulant of the nervous system than caffeine is; its main effect seems to be a diuretic one. (However it is quite toxic to dogs, who can suffer serious poisoning from chocolate candies.) A 1-oz /30 gm piece of unsweetened chocolate contains around 30 mg of caffeine, around a third the dose in a cup of coffee; sweetened and milk chocolates contain substantially less. Cocoa powder has around 20 mg caffeine per tablespoon/10 g.
Cravings for Chocolate Because many people, especially women, experience cravings for chocolate that border on the symptoms of addiction, it has been thought that chocolate might contain psychoactive chemicals. Chocolate does turn out to contain both “cannabinoid” chemicals — chemicals similar to the active ingredient in marijuana — as well as other molecules that cause brain cells to accumulate cannabinoid chemicals. But these are present in extremely small amounts that probably have no practical significance. Similarly, chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring body chemical that has amphetamine-like effects — but then so do sausages and other fermented foods. In fact there is good experimental evidence that chocolate does not contain any drug-like substances capable of inducing a true addiction. Psychologists have shown that chocolate cravings can be satisfied by imitations that have no real chocolate in them, while these cravings are not satisfied by capsules of genuine cocoa powder or chocolate that are swallowed without tasting. It appears to be the sensory experience of eating chocolate, no more and no less, that is powerfully appealing