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Xocolatl
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Chocolate is one of the most popular flavors in the world today. It is a common item in holiday treats, and is a popular gift on Valentine’s Day. While chocolate tastes so good, could it also be possible that it is good for you?

Recently, elderly Germans who were borderline or mildly hypertensive experienced a modest drop of two to three mm of mercury (Hg) in their blood pressure after eating only one-quarter ounce of dark chocolate every day for 18 weeks. This corresponded to an eight percent reduction in relative risk of stroke mortality, and a five percent reduction in coronary artery disease. The flavanols in cocoa promote nitric oxide production leading to improved vasodilation and better blood flow. Dark chocolate, with at least 70 percent cocoa, is the most beneficial. White chocolate, containing no cocoa powder, has no effect.

The flavanols in chocolate also cause a decline in LDL cholesterol levels, inhibit blood clot formation, stimulate anti-inflammatory processes, and delay cognitive decline in the elderly. Studies reveal that dark chocolate also improves insulin sensitivity. The proanthocyanidins in cocoa are similar to those found in blueberries and cranberries.

Chocolate Not a Health Food

Nevertheless, chocolate is not a health food and should be consumed in moderation. It has substantial amounts of sugar and fat. While much of the fat is saturated, the high stearic acid content has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol levels. However, a typical serving size of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of dark chocolate contains 220 calories, and 11 grams of sugar. Milk interferes with the absorption of the polyphenolic antioxidants in dark chocolate and therefore negates the health benefits of the chocolate.

Chocolate also contains various amounts of caffeine, depending upon the amount of cocoa in the product. Dark chocolate had 12-18 mg caffeine/ounce, milk chocolate has six to seven mg caffeine/ounce, while white chocolate has no caffeine. Cocoa beverages average about five or six mg caffeine/cup. This compares with Coke or Pepsi with 35-40 mg caffeine/can, Red Bull with 80 mg/can, coffee with 65-130 mg/cup, and 40-80 mg/cup for regular tea.

Chocolate is derived from seeds of a pod that grows on the tropical tree Theobroma cacao, which means, “food of the gods.” Aztecs associated chocolate with Xochiquetzal, their goddess of fertility. The early Aztecs made a beverage from cocoa called xocolatl, or “bitter water,” due to its bitter taste. This popular “chocolati” drink of the Aztecs became the forerunner of our modern chocolate.

Those not wishing to eat chocolate find the powdered seeds of the carob tree a safe alternative. Carob has no caffeine and contains less sugar than cocoa, since it does not possess the bitter principles of cocoa. Carob is useful for lowering blood cholesterol levels due to its soluble fiber (carob bean gum) content.

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By Winston J. Craig. Reprinted with permission from the Lake Union Herald, February 2008. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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