The Love of Chocolate

Excerpt from Our Journey with Food ©2015, 2018
Revised 2/2021


By Tammera Karr PhD

The cacao tree, aptly named Theobroma cacao, by the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus. The cacao tree only grows within twenty degrees of the equator in the tropics’ damp conditions. Once mature, the tree will produce small, white flowers that can only be pollinated by midges, a fly no larger than a pencil’s tip. When cacao pods are mature, they are harvested by hand using a machete. Each pod is broken open to expose the beans and white pulp and collected into a pile. The beans and pulp remain outside in the heat and high humidity to undergo fermentation.


What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a metabolic process that occurs with microorganisms. Bacteria and yeast thrive in hot, moist climates, and the cacao pulp is an excellent nutrient source. In this case, the bacteria and yeast are needed to produce the precursor compounds necessary for chocolate’s characteristic flavor and aroma. Bacteria do this by eating some of the sugar and acid content, converting it into other molecules. Fermentation typically lasts for about a week. Once fermentation is complete, the farmers will separate the beans from the pulp, used as a nutrient source during fermentation. Next, the beans are left to dry in the sun.


A little history

In Greek, Theobroma translates to food of the gods.  Chocolate connoisseurs know there is more than a gustatory pleasure to be found in this food of the gods. In 1753, Carl von Linnaeus, a Swedish scientist, thought cacao was so important he named the genus and species of tree Theobroma cacao, which means cacao, the food of the gods. This food dates back to prehistoric times and was extensively cultivated in Mexico, Central, and South America for centuries before Europeans’ arrived. 173  The Mayan Indians began cultivating cacao about 600 AD. The indigenous populations ate only the fruit, which contains numerous health benefits. The seed or cacao nib was set aside for a psychedelic brew, called ayahuasca, and for medicines.  According to Aztec myth, the cacao awakened power and wisdom. When the explorer Cortes brought cacao back to Spain in 1528, it was sequestered and enjoyed only by nobility and the wealthy.


The many uses of chocolate

In medieval times, chocolate was viewed as a luxury item and an indulgence. In modern times chocolate is used as gifts for mothers and sweethearts. It is made into cocktails, cold and hot drinks, candies, powders, wines, and lotions. The Spanish are widely responsible for the introduction and development of chocolate foods and beverages.


The making of chocolate foods

The most critical step is roasting. Roasting generates hundreds of the flavor compounds associate with chocolate. The beans are roasted at high temperatures for roughly one hour. There are many chemical reactions responsible for cacoa color, flavor, and aroma. Cacoa naturally has a strong, pungent/bitter taste, which comes from the flavonols. Without roasting, the cacao beans would never obtain the flavor profile we associate with modern chocolate. Cacoa nibs are crushed to form cocoa butter and cocoa liquor. There are several processing steps involved in reducing cacaos bitter taste. Cocoa liquor has a very concentrated, chocolatey flavor with a trace of bitterness and acidity. Other ingredients like sugar, milk solids, vanilla, and emulsifiers are added to the pure cocoa liquor. The addition of these ingredients to the liquor results in a coarse, heterogeneous mixture that still must be further processed. The more chocolate is processed (through fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost. 174


What science tells us about the health properties of chocolate

Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods that offer specific health benefits. They are part of the polyphenol group (chemicals found in plants). Flavanols are a type of flavonoid found explicitly in cocoa and chocolate. More than 4,000 flavonoid compounds are found in various foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea, and red wine. Most popular commercial chocolates are highly processed, providing little if any health benefits.

Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (nearly eight times the amount found in strawberries). Flavonoids also help lower blood pressure nitric oxide production; they can also balance certain hormones. The fats in chocolate (1/3 oleic acid, 1/3 stearic acid, and 1/3 palmitic acid) do not impact your cholesterol. Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while preventing white blood cells from sticking to blood vessels’ walls. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are known factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis. Scientists found that increasing the flavanol content of dark chocolate did not change this effect. Research published in the March 2014 issue of The FASEB Journal.

The effect that dark chocolate has on our bodies is encouraging not only because it allows us to indulge with less guilt, but also because it could lead the way to therapies that do the same thing as dark chocolate but with better and more consistent results,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. Until the ‘dark chocolate drug’ is developed, however, we’ll have to make do with what nature has given us! 175, 177


Benefits of dark chocolate


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 natural flavorings. To enjoy and appreciate chocolate, take the time to taste it.  Most studies used no more than 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces, of dark chocolate a day. One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories.

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

Caution: According to the National Hazardous Substances Database: In large doses, theobromine may cause nausea and anorexia, and the daily intake of 50-100g cocoa (1.5 g theobromine) has been associated with sweating, trembling, and severe headache. Occasionally, people (mostly the elderly) have needed hospital treatment for a theobromine reaction.

  1. The Science behind Chocolate by Abbey Thiel:
  2. (Based on materials provided by Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.)
  3. The Poisonous Chemistry of Chocolate –
  4. Is Chocolate a Healthy Choice for Valentine’s Day? That Depends on Which Kind, Wall Street Journal,
  5.  chocolate-1518100791


By Tammera J. Karr, PhD

As we move full swing into the Christmas season, we are exposed daily to a barrage of messages – messages for the newest drugs, insurance companies, commodities, and festive food and beverages representing joy, happiness, acceptance, and security. Sugar is a significant player in the holiday foods that fuel memories and stimulate senses. The idea of Christmas without sugar cookies, candy, fudge, pies and candied yams registers merely as unAmerican to many. However, the idea of sugar being important to festivities, in reality, is just another fantasy message.

Why we believe much of what we do about sugar is the result of “fake” news:

  1. People think of sugar as lacking micronutrients but otherwise harmless—what was falsified for publication in the 1960s and 1970s.
  2. Despite stringent guidelines for disclosure on researchers instituted by prominent journals, influence over nutrition science by food industry groups continues to occur.

Dr. Cristin Kearns published her findings in the Online JAMA Internal Medicine on September 12, 2016. Dr. Kearns’s paper exposes how Drs. Stare and Hegsted, both now deceased, worked closely with a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, which successfully influenced public understanding of sugar’s role in disease.

Dr. Stare founded the department of nutrition at Harvard in 1942 and was regularly sought out by the media as the expert on healthy eating. Dr. Hegsted was a member of that department, subsequently holding essential positions with the US Department of Agriculture and various top advisory bodies.

In a Harvard library basement,  Dr. Cristin Kearns dentist and researcher from the University of California-San Francisco discovered old letters beginning in 1942 between members of the sugar industry and leading Harvard nutritionists, Dr. Fredrick Stare and Dr. D. Mark Hegsted—collusion and intent to publish fraudulent information to the public is clear.

Dr. Kearns’ has revealed evidence the sugar industry did more than merely sponsor review studies on sugar— in fact; they controlled them from beginning to end. Correspondence from Stare, Hegsted, and the Sugar Research Foundation documents the sugar industry initiated the studies in the first place and influenced their results with the specific goal of eliminating any evidence of sugar as a significant risk for coronary heart disease. I

ncluding suppressing studies that showed a relationship between high-sugar diets and coronary heart disease. Direction was given by Big Sugar for scientists to focus instead on the link between coronary heart disease and dietary fat and cholesterol.

The historical documents disclose the Sugar Research Foundation paid the equivalent of over $48,000 to respected nutrition professors—Drs. Stare and Hegsted and Harvard scientist, Robert McGandy—they were to produce a research paper for publication in a prominent peer-reviewed journal. The objective – shift the blame for coronary heart disease away from sugar. The biased research the sugar association bought appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967.

The early publications by the Harvard scientists Stare, Hegsted and McGandy’s official stance discredited the research-proven dangers of sugar, and determined only one dietary change could prevent Coronary Artery Disease —reducing saturated fat and cholesterol intake.

A few of Dr. Stare’s questionable recommendations that influenced government, media, mainstream medicine, and the public for generations:

While impossible to blame historical figures for all deaths from excess sugar consumption over the past 50 years, Stare’s position at Harvard and collusion with the sugar industry has played a role in preventable disease, morbidity, and death in America.

Assessed worldwide deaths from ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes caused by elevated blood glucose measure 3.2 million every year. High blood glucose accounts for 21% of all ischemic heart disease deaths and 13% of all stroke deaths. At this mortality rate, total deaths over 50 years from sugar intake could equal 158 million…… That grim number is more than double the overall number of deaths resulting from World Wars I and II combined.

So consider – are those sugary treats during the ensuing holiday season worth the price of your health?



Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1680-5.



Artichoke – a thistle bud for health

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

Why do people eat artichokes? Is it a love for mayonnaise dip?  Boy I hope not, what about the opportunity to have warm garlic butter dripping from your fingers? …. Hummm maybe.  Artichokes are a native to the Mediterranean region, and they play a major role in the regional cuisine. Artichokes can be found throughout Europe, Middle Eastern countries, and America.

The edible part of an artichoke is the bud within the flower head before it fully blooms. Timing is key in cultivating them, as they turn hard and nearly inedible once the flower has fully bloomed. Also, one of the most sought-after parts of the thistle is the “heart,” which is the base from which the other buds spring. It is often considered a delicacy or at least the most delicious part of the plant and is generally more expensive.

Artichokes are a versatile food, and although some would consider them a vegetable, they are actually a variety of thistle. Artichokes have also long been famous for detoxifying the body and improving the health of the liver and aiding in digestive issues like indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and diarrhea. Furthermore, these miraculous little thistles can reduce blood pressure, eliminate hangovers, and stimulate urination.

Artichokes are low in saturated fat and cholesterol while being a rich source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They contain vitamins which include vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B-6, B-12, A, E, D, and vitamin K. They also provide minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, sodium, potassium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.

Health benefits

Artichokes contain 4 grams of protein – a significant amount for a vegetable.

One medium artichoke 6 grams of dietary fiber. Artichokes contain a fiber known as inulin. Inulin is a prebiotics; it’s also the preferred form of prebiotic used in diabetes research.

Artichokes have the highest antioxidant levels out of all vegetables, according to a study done by the USDA, and out of 1,000 plants of different types of foods, they ranked 7th in antioxidant content. Antioxidants are one of the primary means of defense for the immune system against the effects of free radicals, which are natural byproducts of cell metabolism that can lead to a number of conditions and diseases in the body.

The antioxidant properties of artichokes come from a number of sources, one of which are polyphenols, which are found in high numbers in them. Polyphenols have chemo-preventive qualities, which means they slow down, stop, or completely reverse the effects of cancer. Their antioxidant ability comes from another source as well, their high levels of quercetin and rutin, two specific antioxidants that have been proven to reduce the chances of developing cancer.

Artichokes are also considered a heart-healthy food. Certain ingredients in their leaves have been found to reduce LDL levels and increase HDL or omega-3 fatty acids levels.  On a related note, artichokes are rich sources of potassium, the essential mineral that has an impact on numerous organ systems throughout the body. Potassium helps to neutralize the effects of excess processed sodium, which in some individuals damages the kidneys. Artichokes, therefore, act as a vasodilator and make them a useful dietary addition for those already taking hypertension medicine.

Diabetics are also encouraged to eat artichokes to prevent the complications associated with blood pressure. Finally, a reduction in blood pressure can reduce the chances of stroke, heart attacks, and coronary heart diseases.

Artichokes were used as liver tonics for centuries, but it wasn’t until modern science opened the door of understanding that we learned why. Two antioxidants found in artichokes, cynarin, and silymarin, have been shown to improve the overall health of the liver by reducing the presence of toxins and facilitating their elimination from the liver and the body. Some studies have even shown these antioxidants to actively promote regrowth and repair of damaged liver cells.

We all need Brain food and artichokes fill that bill also. Their quality as a vasodilator allows more oxygen to reach the brain for elevated cognitive function. Phosphorus, an essential mineral found in artichokes, is found in the brain cells. Phosphorous deficiencies have been associated with a serious decline in cognitive ability.

And this is only a small part of the health benefits of artichokes. So look for ways to eat artichokes without the mayo, there are digital cookbooks free from

To your good health – and real foods



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Chocolate – more than Candy

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

Millions of people worldwide love chocolate in all its many forms. This food of the “gods” comes from the cacao trees. The most common variety of cocoa comes from the Forastero making up 90% of the world crop. The rarest variety Criollo is sought after by artisan chocolate makers.

The first chocolate bars, made from cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar, was introduced by the British chocolate company J.S. Fry & Sons in 1847. However, the history of chocolate goes back at least 4,000 years to the Maya and other indigenous peoples of Central and South America.  This food dates back to prehistoric times and was extensively cultivated in Mexico, Central, and South America for years before the arrival of Europeans.  In the 17th century, cocoa and chocolate were considered potential medicine, and historical documents in Europe reveal they were used to treat angina and heart pain.

During the late 1930’s the importance of chocolate was recognized by the USA, shipping space was allotted for cocoa beans because officials believed chocolate would improve the morale of US soldiers. Today rations still include 4 ounces of chocolate and has been to space with astronauts.

Research has also revealed chocolate has some impressive health benefits, provided you are willing to give up the sweetness of milk chocolate.

Chocolate contains more than three hundred naturally occurring chemicals, caffeine and theobromine are the most familiar to consumers. Caffeine is a stimulant that speeds heart rate and stimulates the central nervous system. Theobromine, formerly known as xantheose, is a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant along with tea, and coffee.  This alkaloid stimulates the release of endorphins, one of our feel good brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Cocoa is rich in antioxidants and may be as high as ten percent depending on the quality of the product purchased. The Flavanoids found in cocoa can lower cholesterol, blood pressure and reduce the risk of blood clots and the amino acid arginine is essential in the production of nitric oxide, necessary in the prevention of heart disease and hypertension. However, this same amino acid is required for the herpes virus to replicate. One of the downsides to cocoa is an oxalic acid which increases the occurrence of gout in some individuals.

Flavanols are what give cocoa a strong, pungent taste. When cocoa is processed into chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce its bitterness. The more chocolate is processed through fermentation, alkalizing, and roasting, the more flavanols are lost. Most commercial chocolates is highly processed. Flavonoids are naturally occurring compounds found in plant-based foods that offer certain health benefits. Flavonoids are part of the polyphenol group of chemicals found in plants. More than 4,000 flavonoid compounds can be found in a wide variety of plants: 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 eight times the number found in strawberries. However just like strawberries, chocolate is a common food allergy. Flavonoids also help relax blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide and balance certain hormones in the body.

Naturally occurring compounds in the cacao’s bean are responsible for its health benefits: epicatechin (a flavonoid) and resveratrol, of which resveratrol has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties believed to protect nerve cells from damage. Resveratrol, a potent antioxidant, is known for its neuroprotective effects. Research has shown this effective antioxidant is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, enabling resveratrol to moderate inflammation in your central nervous system (CNS).  This inflammation of the CNS plays a major role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as MS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Norman Hollenberg, a professor of medicine at Harvard who has spent years studying the Kuna people of Panama who consume up to 40 cups of cocoa a week, Hollenberg believes epicatechin is so important it should be considered a vitamin. The Kuna have less than a 10 percent risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer, and diabetes, which are the most prevalent diseases ravaging the Western world.

Several recent studies have confirmed cacao can benefit the heart, blood vessels, brain, nervous system, and helps combat diabetes and other conditions rooted in inflammation.

In one study, patients consuming 100 grams of flavanol-rich dark chocolate for 15 days showed decreased insulin resistance.

According to a paper published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, cocoa polyphenols may have specific benefits for cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, metabolic disorders, and cancer prevention.

The authors note that:  “Cocoa contains about 380 known chemicals, of which are psychoactive compounds … Cocoa has more phenolics and higher antioxidant capacity than green tea, black tea, or red wine … The phenolics from cocoa may … protect against diseases in which oxidative stress is implicated as a causal or contributing factor, such as cancer.”

A 2013 report in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine also reviewed the many health benefits of cacao, noting that many consider it a “complete food.”  Healthy fats, Antioxidants, Nitrogenous compounds, including proteins, methylxanthines theobromine, and caffeine. Chocolate also contains minerals, including potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium, Valeric acid (which acts as a stress reducer despite the presence of stimulants).

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 hydrogenated fats and sugars), and cocoa powder that is not Dutch cocoa is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity.


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