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Cacao to Cocoa to Chocolate: Healthy Food?

July 13, 2010

Chocolate Drawing

Theobroma Cacao Drawing from wikimedia.org

Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans – the fruit of the cacao tree or Theobroma cacao (the latin term: food of the gods). Recent published articles demonstrate that the quality and quantity of the antioxidants in cocoa and chocolate are very high and their flavonoids are believed to reduce the number of free radicals in the body that contribute to medical problems, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer and also to offer some anti-aging health benefits. Cocoa can lower the leukotriene/ prostacyclin ratio and is shown to have beneficial effects on platelets and possibly inflammation and vessel dilation. They inhibit low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation, raise the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level and reduce the thrombotic tendency. Their antioxidant catechin content is four times that of tea. They help the body process nitric oxide. Their flavanols and procyanidins have inhibitory effects on hemolysis, they can also attribute as a defense against reactive oxygen species (ROS) and can inhibit their carcinogenic processes. Also they are shown to inhibit growth and polyamine biosynthesis of human colonic cancer cells. They contain tryptophan and anandamide, which lessen anxiety, promote relaxation and trigger the production of endorphins. Cocoa can prevent dental caries and may play a regulating role in the function of the immune system and prevent infectious and autoimmune diseases. It stimulates lactase enzyme activity.

Although caffeine may be harmful in large dose, chocolate contains it in small amount in comparison to coffee and tea. Negative effects of chocolate on childhood hyperactivity and migraine  as well as tension headaches are controversial. Since the theobromine content of chocolate relaxes the esophageal sphincter, patients suffering from heartburn should avoid it. Cocoa can trigger some allergic reactions such as atopic dermatitis. This article reviews the potential health benefits and disadvantages of cocoa & chocolate and suggests that their flavonoid-rich types are health beneficial and when consumed in moderation, along with other plant foods, can be part of a healthy diet.

Keywords: Cacao, Cocoa, Chocolate, Antioxidants, Flavanols, Caffeine
ARYA Journal 2005, 1(1): 29-35

Read Entire Article on Sacred Chocolate Science Page: Cacao Controversy

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