The science of chocolate

My name is Mary-Rose and I am a chocoholic. I am scientific about it. I am not a chocoholic because when I’m feeling down I buy a block of milk chocolate and eat it in a sitting. Frankly, even putting “milk” and “chocolate” in one sentence should tell you someone is fudging. Granted, they may be crying in their Cadbury, but that’s not what defines a chocoholic. What defines a chocoholic is carefully calibrated testing, and you don’t start to register until your intake is four squares of 70 per cent cacao a day.

Percentage of cacao is the way you measure chocolate’s power. I am a seasoned chocoholic with a daily dose I don’t choose to share here. But when some pesky interviewer about novels asks me which books I’d want with me on a desert island, or what music, I say caffeine and chocolate, not necessarily in that order, and if you make me choose, I’ll kill you. When they say that’s not a book, not a piece of music, I give them a tiny square of the 90 per cent block I keep in my bag in case of emergency. You know those women who say chocolate is better than sex? They were talking about the 90 per cent. The first time I tried it, in Europe over a decade ago, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It is ebony glorious grace and all the angels in the mouth. And the good news is that you no longer have to talk a relative into bringing a hundred blocks back in their suitcase. You can buy it in supermarkets here in Australia.

I’ll admit that some late nights, scouring the house or on the way to the supermarket, I worry. Does chocolate have a dark side? Is it addictive, like nicotine and heroin? Do I have a problem? There are three tests for addiction, I read (on google, which is synonymous for science). Firstly, you have to have cravings. I can’t get through a day without chocolate, so tick. Secondly, you have to lose control over the thing you’re craving. Travelling for work once, I forgot to pack chocolate. I found myself leaving a meeting, searching Canberra on foot in 37 degree heat, shaking by the time I found a health food store that sold chocolate, in 100 per cent cacao bars so bitter I had to throw them back with grains of sugar. Tick again. Lastly, you keep doing it despite bad consequences. And this is where I relax because while it used to be a tooth-rotting, child-crazy-making, blood-sugar-spiking bad thing, chocolate is now such a good thing that along with beans and broccoli, it’s a super food. You ought to eat chocolate. Science says so.

Chocolate contains antioxidants that keep us younger longer, which makes sense because it tastes like you’ll live forever. It also makes us think faster which is helpful if, like me, you want to base life decisions on scientific knowledge. But in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that the scientists who are saying chocolate is good for us may be the scientists who said red wine was good for us. Remember when drinking became vital to heart health? But then they moved on to alcohol as a poison (I wish science wouldn’t be so literal; couldn’t they just say red wine is delicious rather than it’s a poison?). Finally, the National Health and Medical Research Council released their guidelines. “The health benefits associated with red wine have been largely over-stated.” What would they know? It even sounds unscientific.

It’s possible that chocolate will suffer the same fate as merlot and we’ll see a downgrading of its super status and a gradual re-demonising of the lovely stuff. Already, if you read the fine print, there are disclaimers (but don’t worry; you can apply the scientific method I call pick-and-choose on this; ignore the concerns about fat and calories and reassure yourself it’s super). If chocolate does become bad again, I would have to tick the third box for addiction. I wonder if there’s a 12-step program.

It’s so exhausting going the way of the science warrior in life. I think I need a snack. 

Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 15 March 2014. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!