Menachem's Writings

Chocolates and Antioxidants

I was talking to my friend, Mike, after prayers on Friday, on a topic we discuss often -- food, and what it does once it goes down the oesophagus. Mike is medico and a macrobiotic. Not only does he eat macrobiotic, he also teaches it, preaches it and lives it.

And we got onto the topic of (one of) my favourite foods, chocolate. I have previously mentioned my addiction to the brown goo. I love it . . . I eat some everyday. But I only eat 85% cocoa or more. (This morning I accidently pulled out a piece of Chaim's 70% and nearly had to spit it out! it was toooo sweet!) Mike added that the main problem was that most of the chocolate on the market was heavily laced with sugar, milk and lots of other additives.

Mike mentioned during the conversation that chocolate has four to five times the quantity of antioxidants than do any of the colored vegetables known to be excellent sources.

So I thought I'd look into this. I know there's a lot of "popular science" in food information (like the raw food fad), but I'm letting you know what I found.

First of all, what are antioxidants? They are substances or nutrients in our food. They can prevent or slow down the "oxidative" [cool word -- what is does it mean? -- let's keep reading] damage to our body. When our body cells use oxygen, they naturally (naturally of course) produce free radicals (by-products) which can cause damage. Antioxidants act as "free radical scavengers" and hence prevent and repair damage done by these free radicals. Health problems such as heart disease, age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, cancer [wow, really cover a lot of ground] etc, are all contributed (but not caused) by oxidative damage.

Indeed, a recent study conducted by researchers from London [I love these specific references] found that 5 servings of fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of stroke by 25 percent. Antioxidants may also enhance immune defense and therefore lower the risk of cancer and infection. The next sentence is cool -- "in addition, [antioxidants] minimize the exposure of oxidative stress such as smoking and sunburn". Cool -- smoke as much as you want -- just eat at least ten helpings of "beans, grain products, fruits and vegetables. Look for fruits with bright color - lutein". The brighter the colour, the more fags you can smoke. And for another three helpings, I'll allow you to smoke in the sun at midday ;-)

Fortunately, there is more serious information on the web, but laymen don't understand it. So, hey, there really is a place for junk science (which you will notice seems to always help you part with your money). Wikipedia reports, "An antioxidant is a molecule capable of slowing or preventing the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals, which start chain reactions that damage cells. Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates, and inhibit other oxidation reactions by being oxidized themselves. As a result, antioxidants are often reducing agents such as thiols or polyphenols." Well of course, I concur completely.

Both fad and information sites seem to agree that antioxidants are "good". Let's accept that for now. What about the role of chocolate? tells us that chocolate is also good for your blood pressure, but it's not all black and white (in fact with chocolate, white chocolate is very "bad").

"Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate -- not white chocolate -- lowers high blood pressure, say Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD and colleagues at the University of Cologne, Germany. Their report appears in the August 27, 2003 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. But that's no license to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure -- if you've reached a certain age {what age is that please?] and have mild high blood pressure [how mild? how high?], say the researchers. But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things [and/or exercising more?].

"Antioxidants in Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate -- but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk -- is a potent antioxidant, reports Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy's National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome. Their report appears in the August 28, 2003 issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.

"'Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate ... and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.'

"Translation: Say 'Dark, please', when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don't even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word 'moderate' as you nibble." [I want to add -- don't drink/consume milk at all, especially cow's milk (cow juice) if you want to stay disease free -- more later from me on this topic.] They end of with a little hint, whose basis is an interesting perception of the American diet, "A hint: Don't replace healthy foods with chocolate. Most people's diets have plenty of sweets [my bolds]. Switch those for some chocolate if you're going to try the truffle treatment. " tells us, "Chocolate and cocoa powder are derived from beans that contain hefty quantities of natural antioxidants called flavonoids. The researchers found natural cocoa contains the highest capacity of the antioxidant procyanidin (once know as vitamin P, but the name didn't catch on). [Their last thought is neat -- it basically says, yes there is definitely a lot of antioxidant in chocolate, but who says antioxidants are beneficial anyway?] Antioxidants are thought to be effective in helping to prevent cancer, heart disease, and stroke."

I did find out that the berries of chokeberry, specifically black chokeberry, have the highest measured concentrations of proanthocyanidin found in any plant to date (April 2005). So maybe chocolate is only second best.

Whatever, I continue to enjoy my chockies.

Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


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