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“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” ― Linda Grayson

Chocolate is the “Food of the Gods” for a reason: it not only tastes good, but has impressive health benefits.

Chocolate comes from cacao beans which are actually seeds of a fruit from the Theobroma cacao tree. It is native to Mexico, Central and South America, but now also grown in West Africa, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. It grows well in rich tropical soil. Cacao was used by ancient civilization in Central America such as the Aztecs, Mayas, and Olmec. They used it in religious ceremonies, as currency, in beverages, and food. Columbus then brought the cacao bean to Europe but it was in the 1800s that chocolate was actually manufactured. Then various ingredients were added such as milk and sugar, turning it into modern chocolate.

Cacao Powder

Raw, unsweetened cacao powder is high in antioxidants. Various brands/types vary based on the cacao bean used, the roasting, grinding, and quality. To produce raw cacao powder, the cacao seeds and surrounding pulp are fermented in boxes. Unprocessed cacao beans are very bitter due to alkaloids so they need to be fermented. The seeds are then dried in the sun or ovens and shipped to cacao processors to be milled into chocolate liquor. Then the fat (cocoa butter) is mechanically pressed to produce powder.

Cacao powder is different than cocoa powder. Cacao is:

  • The purest form, raw, and the least processed.
  • High source of antioxidants such as flavonols, catechins, and beta-carotene
  • It is a superfood of nutrients, including a high source of magnesium as well as zinc, iron, calcium.
  • Has more fibre and monounsaturated fats
  • It has protein and amino acids

Cocoa powder:

  • Cocoa powder is a heated form of cacao, by undergoing a higher temperature processing
  • It is less expensive
  • It still contains some antioxidants
  • It may be mixed with more sugar
  • Dutch-cocoa is darker cocoa is alkalized and less acidic and richer in taste

Antioxidants

Cacao powder is one of the richest sources of antioxidants and there are many studies confirming the benefits of cacao powder or dark chocolate.

  • Dark chocolate was shown to have more than double the amount of catechins than green tea which is an antioxidant superfood.
  • A cup of hot cocoa had double the antioxidants than a glass of red wine.
  • Cacao powder has more antioxidants than blueberry, cranberry, and pomegranate

Cacao powder and dark chocolate contain high levels of polyphenols such as flavonols and proanthocyanins which are antioxidants. Flavonols are a class of phytochemicals found in plants. Cacao powder and unsweetened dark chocolate contains the most flavonols. Milk chocolate has less than half of its flavonols available since the milk protein binds the antioxidants, making them less absorbable. Milk chocolate also contains sugar and is more heavily processed, therefore making it less healthy. Therefore, to ensure you get the most health benefits, choose raw cacao powder or dark chocolate without additives!

Cardiovascular Health

Many studies show that cacao powder and dark chocolate improve cardiovascular health in the following ways:

  • Flavonols protect the epithelial cells lining the arteries which produce nitric oxide that dilates the arteries, increasing blood flow and decreasing blood pressure.
  • Magnesium in cacao is a vasodilator that reduces blood pressure
  • Dark chocolate reduces LDL oxidation (being a strong antioxidant). Lipid peroxidation is a factor in atherosclerosis and heart disease.
  • Dark chocolate consumption reduces C-reactive protein, which is a marker for inflammation
  • A meta-analysis showed that dark chocolate reduces the risk of Coronary Heart Disease, Heart Failure, and stroke

Blood Sugar

Choosing cacao powder or dark chocolate (without sugar added) can help lower blood sugar. Studies show cacao reduces blood sugar levels and improves liver enzymes. It also helps protect against insulin resistance. Cacao consumption has shown to have an inverse relationship with incidence of diabetes.

Mood and anxiety

Cacao powder and dark chocolate were shown to increase blood flow to the brain and reduce the levels of stress hormones. They also improve mood and contain magnesium which is relaxing. Cacao contains tryptophan which enhances relaxation. It contains phenylethylamine (PEA) which improves memory and mood as it induces acethylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin release. Cacao contains anandamide which improves mood and anxiety.

Cancer

Cacao procyanidins and catechins are shown to inhibit carcinogenesis. Cacao’s antioxidants also lower free radical damage that can contribute to cancer. Cacao also reduces inflammation which is associated with carcinogenesis.                         

Quality

Chocolate is popular in many countries, with European countries consuming half of the world’s chocolate. The Ivory Coast in Africa is the largest producer of cocoa. Cacao bean plantations employ locals to harvest the beans, dry them, and then are transported to companies. However, undercover investigations have discovered illegal child labour, therefore you should look for chocolate that is Fair Trade or organic.

Usage

You can use cacao powder in smoothies, baking recipes, raw desserts, pudding, smoothie bowls, homemade ice cream, cookies, oatmeal, coffee.

Try my delicious Spiced Chocolate Chip Cookies.

References:

Healing Spices, Baharat Aggarwal 2011

Food Science: Death By Chocolate   Elaine B Feldman, PhD   Nutrition Today 33(3): 1998

Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks: 5,000 Ingenious Kitchen Hints, Secrets, Shortcuts, and Solutions, David Joachim, 2004

SJ Crozier, AG Preston, JW Hurst, MJ Payne, J Mann, L Hainly, DL Miller. 2011. Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. Chem Cent J. 5: 5.

Lee Hooper et al. Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb 1.

Brian Buijsse et al. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Eur Heart J. 2010 Jul;31(13):1616-23.

Jia-Yi Dong et al.  Chocolate consumption and risk of stroke among men and women: A large population-based, prospective cohort study. Atherosclerosis. 2017 Mar 4 ;260:8-12.

Sansone Roberto et al. Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study. Br J Nutr. 2015 Sep 9:1-10.

Maria Monagas et al. Effect of cocoa powder on the modulation of inflammatory biomarkers in patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Nov;90(5):1144-50.

Dirk Taubert et al. Effects of low habitual cocoa intake on blood pressure and bioactive nitric oxide: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2007 Jul 4;298(1):49-60.

Zubaida Faridi et all. Acute dark chocolate and cocoa ingestion and endothelial function: a randomized controlled crossover trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jul;88(1):58-63.

Sheng Yuan et al. Chocolate Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Nutrients. 2017 Jul 2 ;9(7).

Fei Gong et al. Chocolate Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Nutrients. 2017 Apr 20 ;9(4).

Susanna C Larsson et al. Chocolate consumption and risk of myocardial infarction: a prospective study and meta-analysis. Heart. 2016 Jul 1 ;102(13):1017-22.

Georgina E Crichton et al. Habitual chocolate intake and type 2 diabetes mellitus in the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study: (1975-2010): Prospective observations. Appetite. 2017 Jan 1 ;108:263-269.

Chisa Matsumoto et al. Chocolate consumption and risk of diabetes mellitus in the Physicians’ Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Feb ;101(2):362-7.

Kang N, et al. Cocoa procyanidins suppress transformation by inhibiting mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase. 2006. J Biol CHem. 283(30): 20664-73.

Yamagishi M, et al. Chemoprevention of lung carcinogenesis by cacao liquor proacthocyanidins in a male rat multi-organ carcinogenesis model 2003.. Cancer Letters. 191(1): 49-57.

Courtesy of Laura Navrotski

Fenugreek Sprouts for your Salad

Making your own fenugreek sprouts is easy and a tasty addition to any salad! Fenugreek seeds are used as a spice but are actually legumes that can be sprouted like other legumes. Sprouting increases the nutrient content as well as digestibility of the legume. You can use these sprouts raw in salads. You can add up to one cup at a time, depending on your taste. For safety reasons, ensure that you store the sprouts in a safe container in the fridge for a few days.

Fenugreek Nutrients

-Iron – 1 cup provides about 8mg of iron

-Fibre – 100g of seeds provides 25g fibre. In fact, fenugreek is used as a food stabilizer and emulsifying agent due to its fibre, protein, and gum content. Seeds contain insoluble and soluble fibre and the gum portion contains galactose and mannose which are associated with its blood sugar lowering effect.

-Protein – 100g of fenugreek seeds contain 23g protein

-B vitamins, folate

-Many minerals such as calcium, zinc, selenium, manganese, copper

But keep in mind that sprouting the seeds will alter or increase the content of many of these nutrients.

Studies have shown that fenugreek has these benefits:

Promoting milk production while breastfeeding

-Helps with PMS symptoms by balancing hormones

-Lowers blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides

-Helps with digestion and gas, including colic

-Antioxidant and lowers lipid peroxidation which is a factor involved in atherosclerosis

-Helps with inflammation and asthma

Ayurveda

Pungent and bitter. Warming. Balances kapha and vata doshas.

How to Sprout Fenugreek Seeds

  1. Obtain a desired amount of fenugreek seeds (can be purchased in bulk or packaged), you could start with 1/4 cup
  2. Choose a good sized mason jar with a wide lid. Remove the lid, and place a mesh or cheesecloth or muslin cloth over the mouth of the lid, secure tightly with an elastic band.
  3. Place the seeds in the jar, fill with water, secure the mesh on top and leave for 12 hours (or overnight).
  4. After 12 hours, remove the water, rinse carefully under running water, and pour out all the water (through the cloth). Once the water is emptied, place the jar horizontally (or at a little bit of an angle on a plate). You can keep it on the kitchen counter, not in direct sunlight, but not in the dark either
  5. Twice a day (once in the morning, once before bed) rinse the jar under water, through the cloth. Place back on the plate.
  6. After 2 days, sprouts will show. However, leave the sprouts to grow longer, for up to a week.
  7. At the end, remove the sprouts and store in a container in the fridge.

 

Reference:

Sajad Ahmad, WaniPradyumanKumar. Fenugreek: A review on its nutraceutical properties and utilization in various food products. Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences. 2016

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