Should Doctors Prescribe More Chocolate?
Feb 07 2015
Imagine getting a prescription for chocolate — or told to eat up all your chocolate or you’ll not get any sprouts. It might be somebody’s idea of paradise, and whilst these scenarios are unlikely to happen, there are researchers who think that chocolate could have a role to play in a sensible balanced diet.
Let us take a look at some of the research that could excite chocoholics everywhere. First though — what is chocolate and is all chocolate the same?
Inside the Wrapper
Cocoa is made from the dried seeds from the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao — which means ‘food of the gods’ — a plant native to Central America. The Mayan Indians used roasted cocoa beans to make a spicy drink, with the Spanish introducing cocoa to Europe in the sixteenth century. The beans are harvested, fermented, dried, roasted and then ground to produce cocoa mass, with further processing yielding cocoa liquor and butter. Originally consumed as a drink, it was in the Victorian era that a method of making solid chocolate was developed.
Chocolate is made from cocoa butter, cocoa mass, sugar, and vanilla — with milk chocolate also containing milk. The addition of milk is thought to make a difference to the health benefits of the chocolate. Dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa solids than milk chocolate, typically over 60%, and contains no milk and less sugar.
Which components keeps you heart healthy?
It is in the Polyphenols
Polyphenols are a group of micronutrients that we consume as part of our diet. The health benefits of polyphenols, as discussed in this article on peaches inhibiting cancer cells, depend on the quantity consumed and how available they are in the food consumed. There are different types of polyphenols depending on the structural arrangement of the atoms — and one such group are known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are found in tea, fruits and vegetables, and cocoa.
Two of the major flavonoids linked with the health benefits brought by polyphenols are catechin and epicatechin, and both are found in cocoa. Flavonoids are sometimes referred to as Vitamin P, and have a backbone of two phenyl rings joined by a heterocyclic ring. They are formed as metabolites in plants. Studies have shown the benefits of consuming flavonoids including prevention of cardiovascular disease and reduced cholesterol.
Some foods, such as milk, can reduce the adsorption of polyphenols by binding to the polyphenols — hence the reason why milk chocolate does not have the benefits of dark chocolate. So how do you know which chocolate bar is the healthiest?
HPLC Correlates the Cocoa Content
A recent paper published in the ‘Journal of Functional Foods’ used HPLC to find a high correlation between the percentage of cocoa solids listed on a chocolate bar’s label and the amount of catechin and epicatechin in the chocolate. With the good correlation, you can simply choose a chocolate bar with a high cocoa quantity to help keep your heart healthy meaning it is simple to eat healthily.
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