Warning: eating dark chocolate may cause you to have a very good day.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree. Its scientific name, Theobroma Cacao literally means "food of the gods".

Raw cacoa pods

Don't confuse Cacao with the Coca shrub (Erythroxylum coca). Several years ago, when I was wholesaling raw cocoa beans to health food stores, one of my competitors told a store manager that he would never sell raw cocoa beans because they are made into cocaine. I'm still not sure if he was kind of slow, just plain ignorant or trying to take advantage of the situation. It took the manager a couple of days to calm down enough for me to be able to explain that they are totally different plants.

Nearly everyone enjoys eating chocolate, so much so that Americans eat approximately 11 pounds a year per person on average. We love chocolate so much because of the beneficial effects it has on our brains. In addition to having more antioxidants than green tea, chocolate contains over 300 compounds that affect our bodies. It's also an excellent natural pain reliever. For best results, it is important to eat dark chocolate that has no less than 70% cocoa content.

The "love molecule" phenylethylamine or PEA is found in chocolate. PEA is the substance responsible for the amazing feeling we get when we fall in love. Occurring naturally in the brain, PEA is a neurotransmitter related to amphetamines.

Chocolate is a mild stimulant. Almost everyone knows there is a small amount of caffeine in chocolate but many are unaware of the theobromine and theophylline also occuring naturally. These all belong to a class of psychoactive compounds known as xanthines. Theobromine may be the reason why dark chocolate works as an alternative to cough medicine and theophylline is used as an asthma medication.

Chocolate contains the bliss molecule anandamide which is an endogenous cannabinoid nuerotransmitter, which means the brain makes it. Although related to THC, a chemical in marijuana, it's not exactly the same so you don't get "high" from chocolate. Anandamide does effect the pleasure centers of the brain causing a mild euphoria and reducing pain.

Tryptophan, the essential amino acid most people associate with Turkey is also present in chocolate. Tryptophan causes our brain to release the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate our moods and prevent depression.

Chocolate is good source of iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and the vitamins A, B1, C, D and E. It is also one of the most magnesium rich foods.

There was a time when I would only eat milk chocolate, which is not anywhere near as beneficial as dark chocolate. I decided to try eating only good quality dark chocolate. I really don't care much for milk chocolate anymore; I love dark chocolate and eat it frequently. It is true that chocolate is high in calories and saturated fat but about a third of the fat in chocolate is stearic acid. Stearic acid is converted in the liver to heart healthy monounsaturated oleac acid.

There is evidence to suggest that in addition to the nice feeling we get when we eat it, chocolate consumption may also increase our life spans. I believe chocolate is very good for us but, as with anything, it should be enjoyed in moderation.