Monday,25 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)
Monday,25 March, 2019
Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A chocolate a day…

Although it is the apple that inspired the popular adage “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away”, it is chocolate that holds the secret for a healthy life.

This is no staggering news as the benefits of anti-oxidants found in chocolate have been bandied around in everyday conversation for years.  What is new is that after numerous studies, medical research has finally made it official.  

What are anti-oxidants anyway? We hear so much about them but few people actually know what they are. Let us deal with it once and for all.

Anti-oxidants are substances able to destroy chemicals that contain free radicals which cause damage to our DNA, liver enzymes and other cell components that accelerate aging, heart disease, cancer among others. Anti-oxidants protect our DNA.

According to Astrid Nehrig, director of Research at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Strasbourg, France, high anti-oxidant foods are found in fruit, coffee and generously in chocolate. Chocolate contains eight times more anti-oxidants than strawberries. Consumption of such foods prevents oxydisation from free radicals, and if they occur the body is likely to repair it.

We knew chocolate was good for you, but how good? Very good, according to modern science.

This luscious, tasty morsel with its unique aroma and texture that never ceases to thrill and delight us is an indispensable medicine.  An essential dietary substance, it is able to protect us and cure our diseases.

The success of dark chocolate is the flavonols it contains. Flavonols are another group of cocoa components. Arteries carry blood from the heart to the organs and other tissues from head to foot. Flavonols can dilate or widen these arteries helping the blood to flow better.  In fact, improved blood flow seems to be the one benefit of cocoa products that come up in study after study, says Nehrig. 

Scientists at the Harvard School of Medicine agree. Their recent major breakthrough suggests that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain remain healthy and reduce memory decline in older people.  How?  Hot chocolate improves and preserves blood flow in working areas of the brain thus enhancing a region of the brain called “dentate gyrus”, which deteriorates with age and results in memory loss.

Lead Harvard author Farzaneh A Sorond says “As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship called ‘neurovascular coupling’ may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

This has to be very encouraging news for victims of this devastating disease, and to think two cups of pleasing hot chocolate a day can help achieve that, is indeed euphoric. 

Results of laboratory experiments indicated that a cocao extract called lavado might reduce or prevent damage to nerve pathways found in patients with Alzheimer’s.  This premise is repeated in another study published in the journal Appetite in 2016, suggesting that eating chocolate at least once a day could improve cognitive function.  

The modern world as well as the ancient has been consumed by the potential of the tiny, brown, near-magical cacao bean. (Due to a mistake in spelling only the British call it cocoa).  It protects, prevents and treats our diseases. Often called an aphrodisiac, it certainly makes us happy.

The higher the cacao content, the more the benefits. The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of cacao, therefore the higher in anti-oxidants and the more flavonols and flavonoids it contains.  That is why it is preferable.

We must make sure that the cacao powder content is 70 per cent or more.

Authors of most researchers agree that dark chocolate substantially reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, therefore to our delight a regular chocolate consumption is a good thing — and you always worried about your weight. 

As a matter of fact it helps you lose weight. Neuroscientist Will Cower says a small square of good chocolate melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the hormones in the brain that indicate “I am Full”, cutting the amount of food you subsequently consume.

Have you ever wondered why you reach out for a bar of chocolate when in distress? Or why a lover offers chocolate to his beloved! Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), serotonin and theobromine the same chemicals that your brain creates when you are falling in love. How neat is that.

 It encourages your brain to feel good endorphins.   

The ultimate comfort food in times of stress, it is a reliable source of consolation when life has let you down. Scanners have been used to study how brain activity changes when we eat chocolate. Psychologist David Lewis discovered “Letting chocolate dissolve slowly in your mouth produces as big an increase in activity and heartbeat as a passionate kiss.” Really?

Referred to as “food of the gods” the consumption of the cacao beans dates as far as 1900 BC in Central and South America.  They roasted and ground the beans to a paste and mixed it with hot water. They called the drink Xocaotl — the glory, the stimulant, the divine gift of our gods.

 The Mayans worshipped a cacao god in sacred ceremonies, and weddings, naturally.

At some future date your doctor may well give you a prescription for chocolate. The Spanish Conquistadors must have wondered why Montezuma was regularly popping these brown beans in his mouth.

He had 600 wives.

Biting on a chocolate bar, “It is enough to make a dumb man eloquent.”

Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897)

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