Cocoa - The
Food of the Gods
By Christopher Cumo
Chocolate is more than just a
tasty treat. With an enticing even addicting flavor, cocoa is gifted to us
from the beans of the cacao tree, which is indigenous to Central and South
America. Over 1,500 years ago, the Mayans cultivated and worshipped this tree
and thus dubbed it cacao meaning god food. Often enjoyed as the
quintessential winter beverage, cocoa contains fascinating health properties
that have been recognized ever since. The Aztecs, who populated areas of Central
America in the 13th through 16th centuries, believed that cocoa gave one wisdom
and protection against illness. Studies today demonstrate that it does in fact
contain disease-fighting properties, as well as essential nutrients.
Cocoa, derived from the roasted and ground beans from the cacao tree, contains
flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants fight the growth of tumors, and
they protect against heart disease. A cup of cocoa has twice the antioxidants of
red wine and thrice the amount contained in green tea, according to Chang Lee,
PhD, chairman of the department of food sciences and technology at the New York
Agricultural Experiment Station. The indigenous Kuna people of Panama drink as
many as 40 cups of cocoa per week, fortifying them against certain diseases. For
example, less than 10 percent of the Kuna experience strokes, heart attacks,
cancer or diabetes, all of which afflict Americans at alarming rates. The Kuna
also do not suffer from high blood pressure in fact, cocoa lowers blood
pressure and the Kuna do not get dementia. Researchers attribute the latter to
the increased blood (and oxygen) supply to the brain that cocoa encourages.
Thanks to cocoa's effect on the brain, it also is credited with increases in
mental sharpness, concentration and clarity of thought.
Epicatechin, a substance found in cocoa, is the darling of medical research.
Norman Hollenberg, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School,
considers epicatechin to be as important to optimal health as vitamins.
Hollenberg credits the substance with the low incidence of disease amongst the
Kuna people of Panama. These claims are more than hype. In addition to
antioxidants and epicatechin, cocoa contains stearic acid, which protects
against blood clots.
Moreover cocoa is loaded with nutrients. A cup of cocoa contains protein,
vitamins B1, B2 and B6, niacin, folic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium,
manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. According to nutritionist Christine
Foskett, DC, cocoa also stimulates the release of serotonin in the brain, giving
one a feeling of wellbeing. Cocoa also is rich in phytochemicals, which
scientists are just beginning to study to determine their health benefits.
For the greatest benefit, dietician Adrian Porter, RD, LD, recommends that
health-conscious consumers buy pure cocoa powder the closer the powder to its
natural state, the better. Consumers ought to be wary of the many commercial
brands that screen out epicatechin because of its bitterness. Premium grade
cocoa is more likely to contain epicatechin, and the extra cost is an investment
in good health. Once considered the food of gods, cocoa is now the beverage of
the masses. For a boost to your health and happiness, enjoy an occasional hot
cup of cocoa this winter.
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