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For the New Years Resolution: The Health Benefits of Theobroma (and Chocolate)

January 20, 2017

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the final stretch of the holiday season! The New Year has arrived filled with new promises, hopes, opportunities and, of course, resolutions. These resolutions are usually made in the best interest of our health but, quite honestly, are forgotten with the vestiges of the previous year. But this year, I’ve got a resolution that nearly impossible to give up - eat chocolate. That’s right, chocolate.

Cocoa, from which chocolate is made, comes from the Theobroma Cacao tree and was used by the ancient peoples who first cultivated it to treat basically everything - from anaemia to tuberculosis to fevers to poor sexual appetite. And when Europeans brought it back over the pond they experimented with it as a medicine even more - over 100 medical uses for cacao have been documented from the early 16th century. It’s no surprise then that Theobroma Cacao, this apparent cure-all (or as we like to call them today, superfood) means “Food of the Gods.” And it turns out there is scientific backing to the medicinal properties of chocolate, meaning that consuming moderate amounts of cacao actually does have health benefits, just in time for New Years.

As scientific research has discovered, cocoa is brimming with compounds polyphenols, and flavonoids, the latter of which, also called flavanols, is found in fruits, vegetables, wine, and tea and is well known for being a powerful antioxidant. This means that these cacao flavanols help protect LDL cholesterol molecules from oxygen related damage, resulting in lower risk of coronary heart disease as well as a decrease in inflammation. Better yet, cocoa also contains a molecule called Theobromine which simultaneously stimulates our brains, making us more alert, and relieves stress by prompting our brains to produce more calming neurotransmitters. Yet research hasn’t stopped there, scientists today are still looking into the properties of cacao and discovering even more possible health benefits, such as having potential anti-cancer effects.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should run to the nearest grocery store, purchase a box of cheap chocolate-like candy, and eat that instead of dinner - notice how I didn’t say to eat more chocolate? Not all chocolate is created equal, even different types of cacao beans have different levels of flavanols and that’s before the bean is processed. After aggressive processing and addition of unhealthy amounts of milk, sugar, and other additives the left over amount of flavanols in that chocolate bar is negligible. And even with dark chocolate, if you are to eat more of it to get its therapeutic effects, you can’t forget to compensate for the extra sweet - chocolate is still a treat. To get the best health benefits from chocolate you want a bar that is high quality, dark, and has minimal ingredients.

That’s why, for your New Year’s Resolution (and who am I kidding, mine too) I suggest we take advantage of chocolate as one of nature’s superfoods by replacing a usual sugary treat with a piece or two of high quality chocolate. That’s certainly a resolution I can get behind.



Sources:

Baharum, Zainal, et al. "Theobroma Cacao: Review Of The Extraction, Isolation, And Bioassay Of Its Potential Anti-Cancer Compounds." Tropical Life Sciences Research 27.1 (2016): 21-42. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

Crozier, Stephen J., et al. "Cacao Seeds Are A "Super Fruit": A Comparative Analysis Of Various Fruit Powders And Products." Chemistry Central Journal 5.1 (2011): 5-10. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

De Araujo, Quintino Reis, et al. "Cocoa And Human Health: From Head To Foot--A Review." Critical Reviews In Food Science And Nutrition 56.1 (2016): 1-12. MEDLINE Complete. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

Gu, Yeyi. "Modulation of obesity-related inflammation by cocoa (Theobroma cacao L. Sterculiaceae)." Dissertation Abstracts International 77. (2016). PsycINFO. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

Rusconi, M., and A. Conti. "Theobroma Cacao L., The Food Of The Gods: A Scientific Approach Beyond Myths And Claims." Pharmacological Research 61.1 (2010): 5-13. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Dec. 2016

Sethi, Simran. Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015. Print.

Zanteson, Lori. "Dark Chocolate For Your Heart." Environmental Nutrition 37.2 (2014): 1. Health Source - Consumer Edition. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

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