Recent findings indicate that
cocoa and chocolate, when
processed appropriately, contain relatively large amounts of flavonoids,
particularly catechins and epicatechin. There is some evidence of the benefits of
these flavonoids, specifically with regard to cardiovascular health. There are
many unresolved issues that suggest the need for additional research.
For centuries dark chocolate has been known for its taste as well as its beneficial effects on health. Mainly polyphenols, a heterogeneous group of molecules, have been associated with antioxidant and immune influencing properties. Furthermore they inhibit primary hemostasis and pathways associated with platelet activation and aggregation.
Consider reading about other healthy herbs and supplements with high antioxidant potential, including acai berry supplement, curcumin turmeric extract, goji berry supplement, graviola herb, rose hips, mangosteen fruit, pomegranate fruit, and noni fruit.
How Chocolate is Made
The first stage of chocolate production consists of a natural, seven-day microbial fermentation of the pulp surrounding beans of the tree Theobroma cacao. There is a microbial succession of a wide range of yeasts, lactic-acid, and acetic-acid bacteria during which high temperatures of up to 50 degrees C and microbial products, such as ethanol, lactic acid, and acetic acid, kill the beans and cause production of flavor precursors. Over-fermentation leads to a rise in bacilli and filamentous fungi that can cause off-flavors. The physiological roles of the predominant micro-organisms are now reasonably well understood and the crucial importance of a well-ordered microbial succession in cocoa aroma has been established. It has been possible to use a synthetic microbial cocktail inoculum of just 5 species, including members of the 3 principal groups, to mimic the natural fermentation process and yield good quality chocolate. Reduction of the amount of pectin by physical or mechanical means can also lead to an improved fermentation in reduced time and the juice can be used as a high-value byproduct.
Chocolate health benefits
Important components in chocolate are flavonoids (antioxidants), cocoa butter, caffeine, theobromine and phenylethylamine, whereas the presence of psychoactive substances account for its pleasurable effects. Caffeine, theophylline and theobromine constitutes the methylxanthines, known to enhance the action of cAMP, which plays an important role in the transmission of intracellular signals. Chocolate is noted to have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and cardioprotective effects, and improves the bioavailability of nitric oxide, which action improves the pressure, platelet function and fluidity of blood.
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Chocolate and blood pressure
Q. Does eating chocolate influence blood pressure?
A. Most studies indicate that eating both solid dark chocolate and liquid cocoa improves endothelial function and lowers high blood pressure. The high sugar content in chocolate reduces the benefits while sugar-free preparations may have an even better effect on lowering blood pressure. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2008.
Chocolate as blood thinner?
An increasing number of foods have been reported to have platelet-inhibitory actions, and research with a number of flavanol rich foods, including cocoa and chocolate suggests that these foods provide some protection against thrombosis. Consumption of flavanol rich cocoa inhibits several measures of platelet activity. Flavanols present in cocoa and chocolate can modulate platelet function through a multitude of pathways.
Chocolate and C reactive
Dark Chocolate Effect on Platelet Activity, C-Reactive Protein and Lipid Profile: A Pilot Study.
South Med J. 2008. From the Johns Hopkins University/Sinai Hospital Program in Internal Medicine; Department of Medicine and Center for Thrombosis Research, Sinai Hospital, Baltimore, MD.
Our study examined its effect on platelet reactivity, inflammation, and lipid levels in healthy subjects. In 28 healthy volunteers, we analyzed the effect of one week of dark chocolate (providing 700 mg of flavonoids / day). We measured the effect of dark chocolate on high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), high-density lipid cholesterol (HDL) and low-density lipid cholesterol (LDL) levels. Following seven days of regular dark chocolate ingestion, LDL fell by 6% and HDL rose by 9%. Dark chocolate reduced hsCRP levels. One week of dark chocolate ingestion improved lipid profiles and decreased platelet reactivity within the total group while reducing inflammation only in women. Regular dark chocolate ingestion may have heart protective properties.
Depression and low mood
People who feel depressed eat about more chocolate than their non-depressed peers. And the more depressed they feel, the more chocolate they tend to eat, according to Dr. Beatrice Golomb, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine.
Chocolate and Heart Disease
Chocolate lovers who flunked out of a Johns Hopkins University study on aspirin and heart disease helped researchers stumble on an explanation of why a little chocolate a day can cut the risk of heart attack. Apparently, chocolate, like aspirin, affects the platelets that cause blood to clot,. The chemical in cocoa beans has a biochemical effect similar to aspirin in reducing platelet clumping, which can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack/ The 139 so-called chocolate offenders took part in a larger study of 1,200 people with a family history of heart disease. The study looked at the effects of aspirin on blood platelets. Before they got the aspirin, the volunteers were asked to stay on a strict regimen of exercise, refrain from smoking and avoid caffeinated drinks, wine, grapefruit juice and chocolate. Chocolate and the other foods are known to affect platelets. Researchers ran platelet samples from both groups through a mechanical blood vessel system designed to time how long it takes for the platelets to clump together in a hair-thin plastic tube. The blood of the chocolate eaters was slower to clot than the blood of the volunteers who resisted chocolate. The chocolate lovers had lower levels of a platelet waste product called thromboxane. Dark chocolate contains more of the beneficial compounds linked with heart health, and the high sugar and fat content of most chocolate candy might cancel out some of the benefits.
German researchers followed nearly 20,000 people over eight years, sending them several questionnaires about their diet and exercise habits. They found people who had an average of six grams of chocolate per day — or about one square of a chocolate bar — had a 40 percent lower risk of either a heart attack or stroke. Previous studies have suggested dark chocolate in small amounts could be beneficial, but this is the first study to track its effects over such a long period of time. Experts think the flavonols contained in chocolate are responsible. Flavonols, also found in vegetables and red wine, help the muscles in blood vessels widen, which leads to a drop in blood pressure. European Heart Journal April 2010.
Chocolate and mood
Does chocolate improve mood? Perhaps, but only temporarily. Chocolate consumption has long been associated with enjoyment and pleasure. People consume chocolate mostly because it tastes good. Others think chocolate has various properties including that of being a stimulant, relaxant, mood enhancer, and aphrodisiac. The fact is, chocolate eating temporarily satisfies a craving and is a comfort food during emotional difficulties. However, any mood elevating benefits of chocolate consumption are temporary. When people eat chocolate in large quantities for its pleasurable effects, the excess calories can lead to being overweight, which, in some people, can lower mood in the long run due to poorer body image. Chocolate has phenylethylamine, but it is unlikely this compound is present in sufficient quantities to influence mood.
Chocolate and osteoporosis
Chocolate may be good for the heart, but it may not be so great for bone strength. Older women who eat chocolate every day have weaker, thinner bones. Chocolates are rich in flavonoids, which some studies suggest can be good for the bones. However, chocolate also contains oxalate, which blocks the absorption of calcium, and sugar, which can boost calcium excretion.
Fat and fatty acids content in chocolate products
Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2009; Tarkowski A, Nowak M. Instytut Zywienia Zwierzat, Uniwersytet Przyrodniczy w Lublinie.
The aim of this study was the comparison of fat and fatty acids content in chocolate products. Fifteen chocolate products divided into 3 groups--truffles, chocolates candy and chocolates cream were used in the investigations. Crude fat content in the chocolates products was determined on Soxhlet automatic apparatus. The saturated and unsaturated fatty acids were determined using gas chromatographic method. The highest content of fat, average 25.1%, was found in candy and cream chocolates. Saturated fatty acids in fat of investigated groups of chocolate products comprised above 52%, except truffles and chocolates candy with nuts. PUFA content was similar in the all chocolate product groups. Palmitic, stearic, oleic and linoleic acids dominated in the examined chocolate products. Oleic and linoleic acids content was higher in chocolate products with nuts.
Women and Men experience
In men, chocolate satiation is associated with increased taste activation in the ventral striatum, insula, and orbitofrontal and medial orbitofrontal cortex and with decreased taste activation in somatosensory areas. Women show increased taste activation in the precentral gyrus, superior temporal gyrus, and putamen and decreased taste activation in the hypothalamus and amygdala. Sex differences in the effect of chocolate satiation are found in the hypothalamus, ventral striatum, and medial prefrontal cortex.
Dark Chocolate sales soar
In 2006, Mars Nutrition for Health and Well-Being, a division of Mars Inc., launched CocoaVia, a line of dark and premium chocolates and chocolate products sold purely on a heart-healthy platform. Lindt and Ghirardelli, which are perceived as premium brands, have also expanded their distribution in mass channels through products such as Lindt's 72 percent Cocoa Bar and Ghirardelli's Intense Dark range. Hershey's Extra Dark and Cacao Reserve premium dark chocolate lines drove sales growth. Hershey has acquired niche dark and organic chocolate brands such as Dagoba and is also investing in research and marketing to drive category growth.
Chocolate is processed from the pod or cabosside of the cacao plant, grown in the tropical belt. The origins of chocolate are traced back to the Maya people who were probably the first to cultivate the cacao plant. The early chocolate drink, considered a "drink of the Gods" was mixed with cinnamon and pepper, tasting bitter and strong, and was most appreciated for its invigorating and stimulating effects than for its taste. Imported from the Americas, the softened version soon spread in Europe. From the 1800s to the 20th Century, it evolved from a drink to its current pleasurable varieties (such as fondant, Gianduja, milky and white chocolate), gaining much momentum in industry and also made great impact as a romantic item and art form.
White and dark chocolate
health benefit questions
Q. I am a journalist here in India. I want your help regarding information on how chocolate really improves sex life of both men and women. Is it also that chocolate makes your skin younger and strengthens your heart?
A. The role of chocolate as an aphrodisiac is discussed.
Q. Does chocolate have oxalic acid?
A. Yes, there is a good amount of oxalic acid in chocolate.
Q. I eat a lot of dark chocolate every day, would this
interact badly with Zyflamend supplement that my doctor put me on?
A. I have not seen such combination research, but I don't suspect any untoward reactions with eating lots of dark chocolate and taking herbal supplements.
Q. Thank you for your newsletters. In some forms of dark chocolate in Australia there are antioxidants included, e.g. Nestle. Guess what the antioxidant is, Vitamin C !! For your interest !
Types of chocolate
Dark chocolate has the highest amounts of flavonoids, so choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. The higher the concentration of cocoa, the better since you will be consuming the good flavonoids and a smaller amount of fats and sugar.
Chocolate contains both saturated and unsaturated fat. Chocolate should be consumed in small amounts due to the high calorie content.
Processed chocolate is higher in fat and lower in flavonoids. Avoid or reduce candy bars loaded with caramel, peanuts, nougat and other fattening fillings.
365 Organic - Organic Swiss dark chocolate with mint chips - organic raw cane sugar, organic cocoa liquor, organic cocoa butter, organic cane sugar, natural flavor, organic vanilla extract, organic cocoa 52% minimum.
Green and Black - Maya Gold - Organic cocoa liquor, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter. Minimum 55 % cocoa.
Hershey's Extra Dark - Pure Dark Chocolate - 60% cacao - Ingredients: Semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa, milk fat, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavor, and milk).
Ghirardelli Chocolate - Intense Dark - Twilight Delight 72% Cacao - Ingredients - Unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, soy lecithin.
Ghirardelli Chocolate - 60% Cacao bittersweet chocolate - Ingredients - Unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin, vanilla.
Scharffen Berger Moccha 62% Cacao - pure dark chocolate - Ingredients: Cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter, coffee, non gmo soy lecithin, whole vanilla beans.
Schokinag - European drinking chocolate - extreme dark - cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, soya lecithin, cocoa powder and natural lecithin.
Valor Chocolate - 70% Cacao Premium - Ghana, Panama, Ecuador - Ingredients - Chocolate processed with alkali, sugar, cocoa, cocoa butter, soy lecithin.
Book on this topic
THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE By Cal Orey
Kensington Trade Paperback, January 2010
Here it is, the brand new Chocolate book (part of the internationally popular Healing Powers series: The HEALING POWERS OF VINEGAR and THE HEALING POWERS OF OLIVE OIL). Announced in 2009 in blog posts, newspapers, and magazines, it is now available.
“Decadent” and “sinful” are words commonly associated with chocolate, but they no longer apply. Approximately 4000 years ago, in Central America, the Mayan Indians considered cocoa beans “food of the gods” because of its medicinal benefits. Later, it got tagged as a “bad” fatty food. But by the end of the 20th century, a twist of fate turned chocolate back into a health food. THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE traces the origin of chocolate, from bean to bar, from centuries ago to the present day. In creating this informative and fascinating book, renowned health expert and author Cal Orey (who lives near San Francisco, one of the nation’s chocolate hot spots) interviewed America’s top chocolate makers and chocolatiers, nutritionists, medical researchers, and chocolate lovers to find out how this ancient “food of the gods” can prevent and fight common ailments and diseases. The result is a lively comprehensive guide to the wide world of quality chocolate, from 70% dark truffles to Italian biscotti baked with extra virgin olive oil, in America and around the globe. With proven data for eating dark chocolate containing cocoa flavanols to reduce heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and dozens of pesky ailments, this book—with a European twist—takes you on a magical chocolate tour, complete with wit, charm, and entertaining personal anecdotes from ancient folklore to the 20th and 21st century. Incorporating cutting-edge scientific research, plus Mediterranean-style heart-healthy chocolate recipes, from Sicilian Mole to Dark Chocolate Mousse, THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE is a well-rounded one-of-a-kind resource that will show you why savoring this no longer forbidden “food of the gods” is the 21st century trend.
About the Author: Cal Orey is an accomplished author and journalist specializing in topics such as health, nutrition, science, and pets. Her books include The Healing Powers of Vinegar, The Healing Powers of Olive Oil, 202 Pet Peeves, and Doctors’ Orders. She lives in northern California.