Chocolate: A golden ticket to health? By Glen Matten MSc
So much of what you read and hear about nutrition is bad news. All too often it’s framed around what you should be avoiding or cutting out of your diet.
Gluten…dairy…soya…grains…sugar…salt…pesticides…plastic packaging… If you listened to it all, you’d probably be reduced to a diet of fresh air (if you can find any, that is).
But before you slip into a mire of despair, here at P for Peckish we’re all about the good news when it comes to the food you eat. And in the wake of Easter, what better way to do that then go a bit Willy Wonka and get acquainted with the health benefits of chocolate?
Cocoa is rich in very interesting natural plant compounds known as flavanols, the health benefits of which are mightily impressive, spanning many of the major afflictions of modern times. This is especially so in relation to heart health, where cocoa has shown promise in lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart, preventing blood clots, and reducing inflammation. Benefits may also extend to aiding in the prevention of diseases such as diabetes and cancer too.
At the turn of the twenty first century, cocoa attracted the attention of scientists who were trying to unravel why the Kuna Indians, who lived on the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama, were virtually immune to high blood pressure, and maintained very healthy blood pressure even into old age, which is completely at odds with our modern day experience of ageing. Professor Hollenberg and his co-workers unearthed the Kuna’s secret. Their major sources of fluid was a beverage made from minimally processed locally grown cocoa, a very rich source of flavanols. When the Kuna Indians migrated to mainland Panama, and consumed the commercially processed cocoa available at local grocery stores, and largely devoid of flavanols, their immunity to high blood pressure was lost.
So what chocolate exactly are we talking about here? Alas, the bulk of confectionary chocolate won’t deliver these profound benefits. Those products tend to be more sugar and milk than anything else. As a consequence, the prevailing wisdom dictates that the darker the chocolate, the high the level of beneficial cocoa flavanols will be. But in reality, that is a gross over-simplification. Much of the dark chocolate that we turn to as a ‘healthy treat’ has undergone a form of processing known as alkalizing (or dutching), which greatly diminishes the flavanol content, and thus the health benefits.
As a result, many savvy consumers are now switching to raw or less processed cocoa products, such as cacao, which is basically cocoa before it’s been roasted and processed. But even then, we’re still fumbling around in the dark when it comes to the flavanol content, as different types of cocoa beans can vary greatly in this important respect.
In the words of Professor Hollenberg “What the world needs is a label on each package that describes the flavanol content of the chocolate.” The best (in fact only) product we know about that delivers on this is a sensationally high flavanol cocoa powder by the name of ChocoCru. So, if you want to conjure up something on a par to the Kuna Indians, then this should be your go-to cocoa.