Wednesday, January 15, 2014

For the Love of Chocolate

Last week, my teenage daughter had her annual physical. She was checked out from head to toe (much of the exam took place while I was in the waiting room; this in itself is a fairly new development and another reminder that she's a young adult now). 

The doctor asked about her activities, her grades, and at one point she turned to me and asked if I had any concerns about nutrition.

"Um ..." I stalled. Would she call Social Services if I came clean about the vast amounts of chocolate chip cookie dough ingested in our house?

"She has a sweet tooth," I offered up coyly. In all fairness, though, I quickly added the caveat "She gets it from me."

My daughter is trim, slim, and exceedingly healthy. She is rarely ill (just check her school attendance record). She's extremely strong for her size and, according to her multiple President's Awards for Physical Fitness, one of the fastest runners in town.

I say all this (more like brag about it) out of self-defense. Yes, I admit that I let my daughter have sugar and chocolate sometimes. Okay, often. Okay, every meal. So sue me.

We all have our vices. Most of us have addictions too. I've always figured that — in the grand scheme of things, in the terrifying teenage world of drugs and alcohol — chocolate ain't so bad when it comes to chemical dependencies. 

There are genuine, actual, honest-to-goodness benefits to eating chocolate. Really, check it out. (Remember, if it's on the Internet, it must be true.) According to some reports, chocolate is actually a health food. All right, so maybe these reports are funded by chocolate manufacturers ... still, it does a mom's heart good to know that she is providing her offspring with sound nutrition. For example ...

Women who eat chocolate during pregnancy are happier (well, duh!) and have happier babies. (For the record, my daughter was a very happy baby.)

Regularly eating chocolate inhibits the production of stress hormones. Less stress means you're less likely to eat ... well ... chocolate. So, apparently, it's a win-win.

Small amounts of chocolate decrease the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. (Okay, how small?)

Something in chocolate called flavanols can help reduce the risk of sunburn. (And, no, you don't have to rub it all over you at the beach. Unless you want to.)

Dark chocolate actually decreases cravings for sweets (sweets like chocolate, I suppose).

Chocolate can suppress coughs as well as codeine. (Uh-oh, I think I feel a cough coming on. Quick, pass the Godiva!)

Dark chocolate helps prevent diabetes (and not having diabetes makes it easier to enjoy things like — you guessed it — chocolate).

Drinking cocoa (liquid chocolate) increases your brain power for two to three hours.

And, the pièce de résistance au chocolat? When we eat chocolate, it contains an amine called phenylethylamine. This releases neurochemicals norepinephrine and dopamine. This, in turn, triggers the release of oxytocin, testosterone and endorphins. (Are you getting all this? There will be a sophomore Honors Chemistry quiz in a minute.)

Essentially — chemically — eating chocolate is the same as falling in love. So, no need to call Social Services; I'm an amazing mother. I ply my daughter with health food and I enable her to feel not just good, but head-over-heels terrific.

What can I say? Better living through chemistry.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at 

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