Author: Dr Ranjeet Singh
For many people around the world life without chocolate would be dismal. Sanity dark or creamy, chocolate is a beloved food intimately linked with celebrations, comfort, indulgence and extravagance. It’s source is cacao, small tree native to Central and South American forests that produces large pods packed with dark brown seeds. From the seeds come fragrant cacao, luscious chocolate and creamy cacoa butter.
The cultivation of cacao may have originated with the Olmec culture of eastern Mexico more than 3,000 years ago. The Olmec, and later the Maya and Aztec, fermented, roasted, and then ground cacao seeds into a paste. Mixed with water, Chili Peppers, corn meal and other ingredients, it was whipped into a frothy ,spicy chocolate drink. Both the drink and the seeds from which it was made were considered sacred. In ancients Mesoamerica, chocolate truly was the ‘food of the Gods’ which is what Theobroma means.
Therapeutic uses of chocolate
- Heart health ( Including blood pressure and cholesterol levels)
As more studies emerge linking chocolate consumption to improved cardiovascular health. It is clear that chocolate is both a food and medicine not only food but also good for you. Chocolate’s main medicinal effects come from a group of compounds called polyphenols that are strongly antioxidant and anti inflammatory; they also impart to its dark brown colour.
Similar compounds are found in green tea, red wine and many fruits and vegetables interestingly the polyphenols and chocolate seem to act as antioxidants that are stronger than antioxidant in other foods. In humans, these polyphenols are thought to act in several ways. They may stop one of the steps in the development of plaques in coronary arteries by decreasing the oxidation of low density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, deposited there. Hence, LDL plaque does not become as firmly established and is less likely to then rupture and clot, causing a heart attack.
These polyphenols also increase the level of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol, protection against cardiovascular disease. These compounds are also mild inhibitors of platelet activity, thinning blood in an action similar to that of aspirin.
Another interesting component of chocolate is cocoa butter. By weight, much of chocolate is cocoa butter. Considered a good fat, cocoa butter contains oelic acid, a mono- unsaturated fat also found in olive oil. Cocoa butter also contain is stearic and palmitic acids, two saturated fats. In combination these fats seems to balance the benefit to the heart and cholesterol levels.
How to use chocolate?
Choose a dark chocolate of at least 70% cacao to maximize the polyphenol content and the medicinal benefits of this tasty treat.
Due to the small amount of caffeine it contains along with a related compound, theobromine, chocolate can be stimulating making it hard to fall asleep after a late night snack. The fat content of chocolate carries a calorie heavy punch, so eating too much chocolate can add up. Also, as the percentage of cacao in chocolate drops, it is replaced with milk fats that diminish the benefits of cacao butter and bind healthy polyphenols, making them less obsorbable.
(Reference: National Geographic, 36 healing herbs)