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Chocolate

Published March 25th, 2010 in Alternative Perspective

Chocolate

Tammera J. Karr, MSHN, CNC, CNW, CNH
With valentines behind us and Easter only days away, my mind drifted to the groceries store shelf’s loaded with chocolate. Now I have never been a huge fan of chocolate, but even I have been lured by the health claims and the selection of exotic chocolate treats. After all it’s good for me right?

With valentines behind us and Easter only days away, my mind drifted to the groceries store shelf’s loaded with chocolate. Now I have never been a huge fan of chocolate, but even I have been lured by the health claims and the selection of exotic chocolate treats. After all it’s good for me right? The answer as with most things is yes and no. There is no denying that the Cadbury bunny is cute, but healthy he and his goodies are not. The quantities of artificial ingredients and sugars are just plain bad, the same goes for most chocolate brands, but don’t despair, there is good news for diehard lovers of this ancient Mayan food.

Those who are coinsures of the dark chocolates know there is more than taste in this “food of the gods”.  In 1753 Carl von Linnaeus a Swedish scientist thought cocao was so important he named the genus and species of tree “Theobroma cacao” which literally means “cacao, the food of the gods.” Raw cacao or theobroma cacao is the seed in the fruit of the cacao tree. The food dates back to prehistoric times and was extensively cultivated in Mexico, Central and South America for years before the arrival of Europeans.

The indigenous populations of these countries only ate the fruit which contains all the benefits of chocolate but none of the side effects.  The seed ‘cocao’ nib was reserved for their psychedelic brew called “ahyuwasca” and as a medicine. The Mayan Indians began cultivating Cocao about 600AD. In Aztec myth, cacao awakened power and wisdom, interestingly enough, the explorer Cortes upon returning to Spain in 1528 brought cocao back with him and it was sequestered away and enjoyed only by the wealthy and nobility.

Cocoa naturally has a very strong, pungent taste, which comes from the flavanols. When cocoa is processed into your favorite chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce this taste. The more chocolate is processed (through things like fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost. Most commercial chocolates are highly processed.

Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods that offer certain health benefits. They are part of the polyphenol group (chemicals found in plants). There are more than 4,000 flavonoid compounds, which are found in a wide variety of foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. Flavanols are a type of flavonoid specifically found in cocoa and chocolate.

Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries). Flavonoids also help relax blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide, and balance certain hormones in the body. The fats in chocolate do not impact your cholesterol:  1/3 oleic acid, 1/3 stearic acid and 1/3 palmitic acid:

Benefits of dark chocolate

  • Oleic Acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil.
  • Stearic Acid is a saturated fat but one which research is shows has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
  • Palmitic Acid is also a saturated fat, one which raises cholesterol and heart disease risk. But this is still under debate.

That means only 1/3 of the fat in dark chocolate is bad for you.

  • Lower Blood Pressure: Studies have shown that consuming a small bar of dark chocolate everyday can reduce blood pressure.
  • Lower Cholesterol: Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 10 percent.
  • Stimulates endorphin production, which gives a feeling of pleasure.
  • Contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant .
  • Source of theobromine, caffeine and other substances which are stimulants.

Chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-fat food. Most of the studies done used no more than 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces, of dark chocolate a day to get the benefits. One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories. If you eat half a bar of chocolate a day, you must balance those 200 calories by eating less of something else. Cut out other sweets or snacks and replace them with chocolate to keep your total calories the same. Chocolate is a complex food with over 300 compounds and chemicals in each bite. Look for pure dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nuts, orange peel or other flavorings. To really enjoy and appreciate chocolate, take the time to taste it.

So, for now, enjoy moderate portions of chocolate (e.g., one ounce) a few times per week, and don’t forget to eat other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, onions and cranberries. Your best choices are dark chocolate over milk chocolate (especially milk chocolate that is loaded with other fats and sugars), and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity).

To your good Health.

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