Need a respite from Saipan's economic pity party? Well, here's some good news: Eating chocolate might be good for you.
But, then again, it might not be good for you. But let's look at the happy side of things, if only to rationalize what we want to do anyway. A BBC news article, dated Aug. 15, says: “Dark chocolate ’may lower blood pressure.'”
As it turns out, chocolate rates quite a bit of coverage. I looked at similar articles, also from BBC news, which all refer to various studies. For example:
* March 26, 2012: “Chocolate ’may help keep people slim.'”
* Aug. 30, 2011: “Chocolate may protect the brain and heart.”
* March 22, 2005: “Chocolate ’has health benefits’.”
* Hey, it sounds good to me. We can be slim, brainy, heart-healthy people.
* But on the other hand, we have these headlines, also from the BBC:
* April 27, 2010: “Chocolate lovers ’are more depressive,' say experts.”
* Dec. 24, 2007: “Dark chocolate ’not so healthy’.”
Yikes. Well, if I see a depressed, unhealthy person, I'll give them a box of chocolates to cheer them up. It's the least I can do.
The data might be a bit inconclusive, but we can surely say that the BBC is on the case. And that makes sense, since the British know a thing or two about chocolate. In fact, they know a thing or two about confections in general. They do like their sweets.
The famous Cadbury brand, for example, got its start in England in 1824.
Some purist will surely note that chocolate isn't sweet on its own. But most people understand that it's typically mixed with sugar, so chocolate, as commonly consumed, is regarded as a sweet by anyone I know.
If you like chocolate, then you'll really savor the One Golden Ticket website. It has reviews of various chocolate products from true aficionados, and it also lists some data about national chocolate consumption. And, holy smokes, as the data shows, some people, especially in Europe, scarf a whole lot of chocolate.
Going from 2008 figures, the top nation in per-person chocolate consumption was Germany, at 25.1 lbs per year. Then came Switzerland at 23.7 lbs per year, and then the UK at 22.7 lbs per year.
That 22.7 lbs comes to the equivalent of 103 candy bars per year, based on a 100-gram bar. So that's two chocolate bars per person, per week, on average, in the UK.
Yearly consumption in the U.S., by contrast, was reported at 11.2 lbs, which amounts to about one bar per week. The only Asian nation I saw listed was Japan, at 4.7 pounds, or about one-half bar per week.
Of course, you can't ponder Asian markets without thinking about China's growing economy. The chocolate realm is no exception. Somebody wrote a book about it. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers, published in 2009, was written by Lawrence Allen, an executive who helped pioneer the Chinese chocolate market. I haven't read the book, but it looks interesting.
Chocolate is ubiquitous in Saipan, of course, being sold everywhere from little shops to big grocery stores to tourism boutiques in gift boxes. But I don't know how Saipan's consumption levels stack up against other places. After all, a tropical climate isn't exactly easy on chocolate.
But, paradoxically, the tropics are where chocolate comes from in the first place. The underlying commodity, the cocoa bean, comes from tropical trees, and the top producers are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Brazil.
Cocoa is traded on futures markets, and, indeed, Jim Rogers, the commodities guru, used cocoa as an example for various trading scenarios in his book Hot Commodities. That's a great book to begin with, so having a sweet-tooth angle in there just makes it even better. Perhaps this explains my otherwise inexplicable urges for Hershey bars while studying for my “Series 3” Commodities Futures exam.
Overall, then, that humble candy bar that's melting in your car right now has links to a global economy, big business, high finance, British tradition, and, apparently, a lot of scientific studies about health. But let's boil it down to a more simple and practical level: If you want to chomp on some chocolate, it's an easy thing to rationalize, at least until the next study comes out.
So, eat up! After all, even pity parties should serve food.
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Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.