Science is Sweet!

The science of chocolate

Science is Sweet!

I confess, I have a serious addiction to chocolate. Like all addicts, I justify my daily fix with all kinds of excuses. If it was good enough for the Mayans it’s good enough for me! I latch on to new science stories about the health benefits of chocolate like a starving leach to a juicy leg. Chocolate has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease, cholesterol, dementia, depression and cancer. So surely we should be taking a medicinal daily dose! For my love of science, and in the wake of our Easter gluttony, I am willing to risk shattering my chocolate-tonic dreams to find out how much proof is in the pudding!


Chocolate contains a chemical called Theobromine whose story is truly bitter-sweet. Toxic to many animals, including cats and dogs (It is the reason chocolate is a no-no for pets), Theobromine breaks down very slowly. It builds up until it makes the animal dehydrated, have an irregular heart rate, vomit and have fits. Quite nasty side effects for a moment of sweetness! In humans it can cause heartburn by relaxing the muscular trap door to your stomach.


On the up side Theobromine is a muscle relaxant so is said to help muscle-spasm disorders like asthma. It thins the blood so is used in medicine for heart conditions and, like tea, is a diuretic so in small amounts can be good for water retention.


Of course there is the issue of fat…or is there? It is true that chocolate contains high levels of saturated fat but some research shows that the type of fat in chocolate is actually changed into healthy fat in the body. One study gave people the choice between eating butter or chocolate daily (tough choice??). The group eating the chocolate had no increase in cholesterol while the butter group did.


The ingredients in chocolate thought to be most beneficial in terms of preventing diseases like cancer and dementia are called Phenols. Cocoa is a fruit so, like other fruit such as apples and grapes, it contains Phenols. Phenols are one of the most potent types of anti-oxidants (the things that give you the good excuse to drink red wine). Anti-oxidants are like the cops in a game of cellular cops and robbers. The robbers, aka “free radicals” (the scientists were having a good day when they named those!) race about stealing electrons from stable substances. This act of theft converts the once stable substance into a free radical too. The free radical gang continues to grow causing damage to cells. When the anti-oxidants blow their whistles they can return the free radicals back to their stable state where they can go back to doing good in the cellular community that is your body.


So when I hit 100, have no teeth left (thanks to the sugar in all that chocolate– I glossed over that bit, I know) but a brain as sharp as a 20 year old I will be laughing all the way to the chocolate factory thank you very much


Experiments to try at home!

There are SO many great experiments you can do with food! Kitchen science is one of the easiest ways to get even the most reluctant scientists into experimenting.

Here are some simple videos you can use to do kitchen science:

1: All you need for this one are some skittles! Once you have done this, perhaps you could look into colours, light and how we see colour. Our Light Box has ready made experiments to look deep into the fascinating ways light works


2: Putting foods under pressure creates weird and wonderful experiences! What could you put into a vacuum pot (you can get this type here)? What could you do to protect the tea cake? Think about astronauts and how they don’t blow up in the vacuum of space!


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