Monday, March 19, 2007

Cocoa For Life

If you've read this blog at all, you know I'm not exactly Richard Simmons when it comes to my food choices and activity level (but then, who really wants to be Richard Simmons!). Just this morning I ordered a hot Chai tea. The barista asked: "Would you like this with non-fat milk?" "No," I replied, "I'll take all the fat. Do you have whole milk?" She nodded, but then said with a gleam in her eye, "We also have half-and-half." "Half-and-half it is!" I replied. Ah, foamy goodness! Some day my arteries will finish clogging and I'll kick the bucket, but it'll be a milk bucket, by gum!

Yes, when it comes to food I'm a glutton. Give me all the fat, sugar, caffeine, and assorted other goblins of the food industry. Preservatives and artificial flavors? Sure, bring 'em on, my gut can take it.

So when I see studies that show actual benefits from what is typically considered to be "trash" foods, I make a point of sharing it with all of you. Spread the news, I say, and let's party together. Lump into this category stories like the health benefits of caffeine and caffeinated drinks like coffee, as well as red wine, and red meat (re: Atkins diet).

Now we can add chocolate to that list. A study came out in the last month which shows strong health benefits of cocoa:

Story, with links to journal abstracts:

The study compared the Kuna Indians living on the San Blas islands of Panama to a similar population on the Panamanian mainland. Members on the mainland died from typical rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes (83, 68, and 24 people, respectively, per 1000), while the Kuna were far less likely to die of these diseases (9, 4, and 6 people per 1000). Why? One thing that was different between the two populations was that the Kuna drink a remarkable 40 cups of hot chocolate a day! But this isn't Swiss Miss cocoa. This is a lightly-processed cocoa, which still contains all the flavinoids. Flavinoids are natural antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, and it turns out cocoa is one of the richest sources, particularly of a flavinoid called epicatechin. The authors of the study carefully investigated this, first performing population studies, then confirming the benefits of that particular flavinoid on artery function. One author actually goes so far as to suggest epicatechin be reclassified as a vitamin.

So should I run out and munch on a handful of Hershey's bars each day? No, sadly, since the chocolate processing takes out most of the flavinoids. I might die happy, but piano-sized caskets are hard to come by. Already food companies are looking into this study to make healthier products. You'd better believe I've got my eyes (and mouth) open and waiting for their appearance.

In the meantime, perhaps I should at least go with regular milk in my Chai tea, eh?

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