Make mine chocolate
Everybody loves it, and for good reason. Except for a few unfortunate souls, mankind has enjoyed and delighted in the taste produced by the cacao (cocoa). Hot, cold, solid, liquid, in cakes and ice-cream, nuts and nuggets, or even meat and veggies, if it has chocolate in it, we love it. No, it does not cause acne as do other sweets do. It simply tickles your taste buds, until you are overcome with an uncontrollable urge, and irresistible craving to pop a morsel or two in your mouth. It is easy to understand why the ancient Mayans and Aztecs of the Americas, worshiped the cacao tree and imbibed a bitter brew (xotolatl) made from the cacao raw beans.
Brought to the Western world by the Spanish conquistadores in 1502, it soon spread around Europeans who transformed it into the chocolate candy bars we consume so voraciously today. Intrigued by this addiction, scientist's curiosity was piqued. Chocolate contains approximately 380 known chemicals; some affect our brains and thus our moods. Chocolate makes us happy, and here's why: Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego found three substances that explain our addiction. 'Phenyl- ethylamine' (PEA), increases dopamine levels, similar to amphetamines, stimulating the pleasure centers. 'Tryptophan' is another substance used by the brain to make serotonin which acts as an antidepressant. Another potent drug is 'anandamide', which interacts with PEA producing theobromine, caffeine and other stimulating substances. Adam Drewnowski of the University of Michigan discovered that chocolate triggers the production of natural opiates, such as those found in opium which dull pain and produces a feeling of euphoria. This information has been known to us for some time and has been previously discussed in this column. The news is good for those hopeless chocoholics.
During the last decade medical research has focused on the health benefits of chocolate, previously unknown. Chocolate contains flavonoids which act as antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from aging caused by free radicals. Dark chocolate contains a high percentage of antioxidants, nearly 8 times the amount found in strawberries. Flavonoids also help relax blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide and balance certain hormones in the body. With every research, major health benefits of dark chocolate are revealed. Johns Hopkins University researchers have found that a little dark chocolate every day can help thin the blood, thereby possibly reducing the risk of developing blood clots, much like aspirin, but without the side effects. Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure in hypertensive patients, it has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 10%. This topic was covered by the AMA Heart Association in 2007. So, dark chocolate protects your heart. There is, according to a Harvard University 10- years study, flavonoids in cocoa result in the reduction of heart disease as well as cancer, the two top causes of death in the Western world. Could there be more reason for chocoholics to rejoice?
This however, does not mean that eating your favourite milk chocolate bar will shield you from cancer or heart disease. Adding dairy products to chocolates effectively cancels out the healthy antioxidants in the cocoa. Consumption of chocolate containing a minimum of 70% pure cocoa is what you should seek. Avoid added sugars, artificial sweeteners and milk fat in order to gain the natural anti-cancer benefits of cocoa. The Harvard study included a survey of the Kuna Indians of the San Blast Island off the coast of Panama. They drank 4-5 cups of coco a day and had 280% lower risk of death from heart disease, and a 630% lower risk of death from cancer than their cousins, the Kuna Indians of Panama.
The latest surprising scientific discovery occurred at the annual meeting in Vienna Austria, last April. The International Liver Congress and the European Association for the Study of Liver reported that eating dark chocolate reduces damage to the blood vessels of cirrhotic patients by lowering the pressure of blood in the liver. The data also showed that eating dark chocolate may exert additional beneficial effects throughout the whole body. Can there be any doubt that chocolate, in the appropriate form, is a desirable succulent as well as healthy snack?
Pick a dark organic variety of chocolate. Replace your coffee with cocoa for the same pick me up. Above all do not overdo it. If the calories mount, it will only result in obesity that brings about the very diseases you wish to avoid. Forty grams of organic cocoa powder or 4-6 teaspoons throughout the day is all you need. Strange how we often find ourselves discarding all the modern improvements of Western civilizations, returning back to the primitive natural methods of our forefathers. 1,500 years later we are back to the original method of consumption used by the early Aztecs. We have seen this phenomenon time and again. Butter is back in vogue and margarine and her sisters are banished from the kitchen. Cocoa, raw, dark and rich is better alone, minus all the additives.
It should not surprise us that cacao is a healing super food. Chocolates are made from plants which are abundant in flavonoids and antioxidants. Chocolates help protect our hearts, brains, liver, detoxifying our blood and brightening our day. If chocolate does not agree with you, you can seek flavonoids and antioxidants in other plant foods, such as green and black tea, acai berries, pomegranates, cherries, apples, apricots, blackberries, raspberries, purple grapes, kale, amongst others. By all means buy your beloved box of chocolates. Make your chocolate plain and avoid the nougat and caramels that only add sugar and calories. Statistics show that 75% of chocolate is purchased by women all year long, except for Valentine's Day when 75% of chocolate is purchase by men. Over one billion dollars of chocolate is purchased for Valentine's Day. However, for cocoa lovers around the world, the word is out -- your favourite food is also a healthy food.
God gave the angels wings, and he gave humans chocolate