Chocolate: A Potent Superfood
Once regarded as a health sin, chocolate is now being hailed as a superfood because of the high levels of health-boosting antioxidants it contains.
Other ingredients include theobromine, which is good for the nervous system.
A recent study at Imperial College London showed chocolate can suppress persistent coughing. Another compound, phenylethylamine, is thought to have a mood-boosting effect.
Meanwhile, antioxidants in chocolate are said to protect the skin against UV damage.
They also boost cardio-vascular health (these health benefits all accrue from dark chocolate, as it is higher in cocoa solids).
In fact, so good is chocolate that it's no longer just a healthy indulgence - some doctors are now recommending it as a form of treatment.
Dr K.K. Atsina, formerly of the University of Ghana Medical School, has used cocoa powder 'as an adjunct to treatment of hypertension and diabetes in my clinic for a very long time'.
Another Ghanaian doctor, Professor F. Kwaku Addai, writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, describes how he recommends two to five cups a day to help protect against malaria.
'I used to get malaria at least once a year,' he says. 'But since 2004, when my family started drinking unsweetened natural cocoa mixed with hot water, we have not had it.'
He says other doctors use it to help with everything from eyesight to asthma.
Closer to home, patients of Professor Dan Reinstein, a top laser eye surgeon at Harley Street's London Vision Clinic, are encouraged to eat 'as much as they can' 30 minutes before surgery.
'Patients who eat chocolate prior to laser surgery are less jittery, more alert and more co-operative than those who receive sedatives,' he says. 'For example, with a relaxed, attentive patient I can perform a routine procedure in less than three minutes.
'But the same procedure can occasionally take much longer if the patient is tense and worked-up.'
The natural high many experience after eating chocolate is not, it seems, just in our minds.
Professor Donatella Lippi, a medical historian at the University of Florence in Italy, has researched the history of cocoa.
She says: 'In the past few years, natural substances such as flavonoids - high concentrations of which are found in cocoa - have been considered as antidepressant treatments.'
Chocolate can also be used to balance low concentrations of brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine.
These important chemicals are both involved in mood regulation, food intake and compulsive behaviours.
Eating a moderate intake of dark chocolate is also suggested by psychiatrists because of its antidepressant-like effect.
In fact, this therapeutic use of chocolate is ages old. Professor Lippi says: 'In Europe, the relationship between chocolate and medicine dates back to Columbus's voyages to the New World. For example, in 1577, Francisco Hernandez (court physician to the king of Spain) affirmed that chocolate was used to treat liver disease.'
In a treatise published in 1662, Henry Stubbe, the personal physician to Charles II, reported that English soldiers who were in Jamaica lived on a diet of cocoa paste mixed with sugar which was then dissolved in water.
Stubbe noted that chocolate could also be used as an expectorant (which can ease respiratory difficulties), a diuretic or an aphrodisiac. It was also suitable for treating hypochondriacal melancholy.
In other words, just eating some chocolate can make you happy.
March 23, 2010