The sweet path to good health
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Chocolate is not only tasty it may help prevent some chronic diseases
It is well accepted that a regular intake of fruits and vegetables helps to prevent a number of chronic diseases, especially cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Oxidized LDL activates endothelial cells in blood vessels to produce certain adhesion molecules that lead to accumulation of white blood cells in the vessel wall. These modified LDL particles are not cleared from the circulation as they should be, but migrate to the sub-endothelial space where they produce so-called `foam cells' filled with LDL in the vessel wall. This is the initial step in a series of inflammatory events that finally leads to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, and it is atherosclerosis which finally leads to many cardiovascular diseases.
Presumably, this process would be inhibited if the oxidation of LDL could be prevented. Dietary antioxidants, especially vitamin C, vitamin E, and lipoic acid and metal chelators have been shown to prevent LDL oxidation and endothelial cell dysfunction.
Cocoa is a wonderful antioxidant. For a long time, cocoa beans have been recognised as important source of polyphenols. The medicinal properties of cocoa were well known to the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations and it was considered a valuable and prestigious food of divine origin.
Theobroma cacao (the scientific name of the cocoa plant, meaning "food of gods"), prepared as a chocolate beverage, was used to treat a large variety of problems, including gastrointestinal and liver disorders, angina and heart pain, kidney complaints, infection, and inflammation. Aphrodisiac properties and longevity were also attributed to chocolate by the ancient civilizations.
Cocoa powder and cocoa-derived products, especially dark chocolate, are good sources of flavonoids, mainly epicatechin and its oligomers called procyanidins. Dark chocolate has the highest total catechin and procyanidin content. The particular procyanidins present in chocolate and related products are not commonly found in such abundance in other plant foods or beverages. Besides their contribution to flavor, procyanidins strongly correlate with the antioxidant activity of chocolate observed in vitro.
Regular intake of chocolate may help prevent some chronic diseases. It has been suggested that chocolate can be an important source of catechins for young people, who may prefer chocolate to tea, or in countries where tea is not as widely consumed as chocolate.
Since chocolate in products is accompanied by fat and sugar, eating too much may cause health problems in susceptible people although the type of saturated fat (stearic acid) in chocolate does not seem to adversely affect the blood lipid profile.
Milk chocolate, on the other hand, contains milk fat and may have an adverse effect. As is the case with red wine, enjoying chocolate in moderation seems to be the key.
The good news is that chocolate is not only a delicious food enjoyed by millions but is also an appealing source of potentially healthful compounds.
YELURIPATI ANUPAMA, V.JYOSTNA, CH.ANJANI DEVI
I year MSc, Centre for Biotechnology, Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur
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