Chocolate for healthy eating & living

Chocolate is one of the world’s most popular foods with a memorable, luscious flavour. Whether as a special gift or sweet treat, most people cannot imagine life without chocolate. With an average consumption in the United States, Europe, Australia and the United Arab Emirates estimated at above 6kg per person annually, chocolate manufacturers continue developing innovative confections to tempt consumers.

Despite its glorious origin as a drink for the gods and royalty by the Aztecs and Mayans, chocolate nowadays is often fingerpointed as an unhealthy source of food allergies, illness and sugar indulgence.

Through mass production, industrial processing, refining and the addition of dairy and other unhealthy additives, chocolate’s purity is lost, and the quality of cacao beans used in mass-produced chocolate is degraded. Regretfully the luxurious essence and subtle flavour of pure chocolate have thus been sacrificed for mass-market appeal.

Luckily, chocolate’s ancient secrets are being reclaimed today by a growing number of consumers and chocolate-makers who welcome back its divine origins for gourmet enjoyment.

Market trends driving organic and raw foods

For centuries, from legendary Aztec Emperor Montezuma to more contemporary notables, people have spared no expense to savour chocolate, the elixir of the gods, as it was then called. Interestingly the alkaloid stimulant of cacao bean, theobromine, stems from the Greek words for god (Theo) and drink (broma).

Since then, every culture has longed to discover and revel in Mother Nature’s secrets of natural, healthful living. In the ancient cultures of Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe, the boundaries between food and medicine were more blurred than they are today. “Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food,” Hippocrates advised.

Today’s consumers are not only seeking foods that contribute to personal health and well-being instead of causing disease and illness, but are also focusing on ethical production such as organic farming and fair-trade wages.

The global market is alive and bursting with demands for superfoods produced in ethically-acceptable conditions . According to Bharat Books Bureau, a London research firm, the global organic food market grew by 19% in 2007. By the end of 2010, Bharat projects it will gross over $70.2 Billion, with Europe leading, followed by North America.[1]

 Another emerging dietary trend gaining attention is the consumption of raw foods. Proponents claim raw foods retain more live enzymes than cooked foods and thus bestow more energy and better nutritional benefits on diners [2]. Any food that has not been processed or minimally processed and not heated above 50˚C (122˚F degrees) is considered raw. Raw foods include: fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds such as raw cacao, sprouts, seaweeds, spices and herbs.

Market demand has never exerted a healthier appetite for tasty, nutritious foods. Consumers yearning to return to natural and organic foods are presenting tremendous opportunities for socially-responsible producers.

Hailed as a superfood due to its high antioxidant and magnesium content, raw chocolate is becoming the new trend food. Its delicious and gourmet ingredients, health benefits and responsible production meet the most popular consumer trends in the food industry today. 

Made from cacao cultivated with integrity and following “best-business” practices, including organic farming methods and fair-trade wage agreements, this new breed of chocolate satisfies consumers’ concerns in every aspect – be it a singular gourmet luxury taste or socially-conscious and responsible production.

[1] Bharat Books Bureau, London. Global Organic Food Market Analysis. November 12, 2009. http://74.125.153.132/search?q=cache:iedBzWTwCzUJ:www.articlesbase.com/food-and-beverage-articles/global-organic-food-market-analysis-

[2] Jolinda Hackett. What Are Raw Foods? http://vegetarian.about.com/od/vegetarianlifestyle/f/rawfoods.htm

Chocolate as a whole food

Increasingly alarming health developments on obesity, heart disease and other potentially life-threatening illnesses have caused many health-conscious consumers to take a closer look at their nutrition.

The resulting trend towards natural and whole foods has fuelled the argument that food should contribute to personal health and well-being instead of causing disease and illness.

Today’s conscious consumers are looking for superfoods that taste delicious while also delivering health benefits.

Superfoods

While the term ‘superfood’ has been coined only recently, it has already been defined in the 2009 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary as “food considered especially nutritious or otherwise beneficial to health and well-being”. It is often used to describe foods that require little or no processing to highlight their nutritional value.

 

Raw chocolate has been identified as a key superfood with an increasing number of studies cited below, confirming the various health benefits of its main ingredient, the cacao bean. When used in its natural, raw state, it contains phenomenal nutrients that are vital to a strong and healthy body.

This paper takes a closer look at the developments in the whole-foods market in the United States, Europe, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Australia, paying particular attention to the benefits of raw chocolate as a new superfood.

superfood chocolate for health

Alarming health statistics

In its annual health report “World Health Statistics 2009”, the World Health Organization states that heart disease, stroke and cancer continue to be the leading causes of death worldwide [1].  In the United States, more than one third of all deaths are attributed to heart disease, which translates to one in almost three deaths in America [2]. Europe is prey to similar health problems with cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death and cancer, accounting for 25% of total mortality[3]. Equally alarming, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in Australia and the UAE, affecting an increasing proportion of the younger population[4][5].

The American Heart Association (AHA) maintains that an unhealthy diet – also referred to as the Standard American Diet – and a sedentary lifestyle are to blame for cardiovascular disease, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.

Statistics published by the AHA in 2009 show that the average American consumes less than one serving of whole grains and fewer than two servings of whole fruits per day. The consumption of vegetables is similarly low with an average of between one and two servings daily, while nuts, legumes and seeds are lagging behind even further with Americans only eating two to three servings per week.  In contrast, Americans consume significantly more processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets and bakery desserts[6].  Similar eating habits are observed in other industrial countries, such as the UK and Germany, Australia and the UAE.

Diet as a factor of sickness

By now it is a commonly-accepted fact that nutrition affects one’s health. An overwhelming number of scientific studies has proven the direct correlation between what one eats, or doesn’t eat, and the cause of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer[7].

The human body has difficulty processing, digesting and assimilating food that has been altered from its original state and laced with food additives. As by-products of incomplete digestion remain in the colon, they form a residue that is toxic to the body.  While the body can ordinarily eliminate these toxins on its own using the kidney, liver and intestines, consuming processed foods regularly can overtax the digestive system, leading to more toxic build-up in the colon.   The result can be undesired weight gain and an increased risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and certain cancers.
Since the average person’s diet is too often heavily composed of highly-processed foods, one’s diet quickly turns into a major source of toxins. Adding to these the toxins already present in water and air, the human body is thus unnecessarily exposed to thousands of noxious substances everyday that negatively affect one’s health.

Trends in the whole-foods market

Back to food basics

Health professionals overwhelmingly agree that a healthy diet made up of low-processed foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, essential fatty acids, as well as nuts and legumes), paired with regular physical activity, can help the body combat the leading cause of death worldwide, cardiovascular disease[8] . They emphasise the importance of consuming these foods when they are closest to their natural state.

Definition of natural foods

While there may be no standard definition for labelling food “natural” in the United States or in the UK, most health organisations and food agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, consider the following as “natural”[9] :

  • the product does not contain any artificial flavour, flavouring, colouring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient
  • the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed. Minimal processes include smoking, roasting, freezing, drying and fermenting, which make the food more edible, preserve it or make it fit for consumption   
  • the product undergoes a physical process such as grinding or pressing, which does not fundamentally alter the raw product or which only separates a whole, intact food into component parts

Newly-labelled superfoods, such as raw chocolate, like BLYSS chocolate which we call Single Bean Virgin Chocolate, maintain their health-giving qualities by cold-pressing cacao beans instead of cooking them. This is considered minimal processing, resulting in a raw chocolate product that maintains all the benefits of its nutritious ingredients.

Whole-foods market

The natural-food market around the globe has been growing steadily in recent years. The international food and grocery expert IGD foresee further growth of the whole-foods market in the UK, with projected sales of premium whole products reaching £19 billion ($30.9 billion) by 2011[11].  In the United States, the Nutrition Business Journal reported that the natural-foods market grew by 10% in 2008, with a current value of $13 billion.  

Many whole-food consumers consider more than just the quality of the whole-food products when choosing what to buy. Just as important to the conscious and responsible consumer, the ethical production of whole-food products, such as organic farming and fair-trade wage agreements, also plays a role when making food choices. As a result, leading retailers in the whole-foods market are starting to consider more than just the end product as a means to attract consumers.  

Trends in the natural-foods market  

Health and wellness trend

There is a growing awareness amongst consumers that natural and organic foods are healthier than processed and refined foods. In 2005, the University of Michigan unveiled its Healing Foods Pyramid, which encourages consumption of foods known for having healing benefits to the body.  These foods are largely plant-based and include colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, dairy, eggs, lean meats, fish and seafood, herbs, onions, garlic and accompaniments such as alcohol, dark chocolate and tea[13].

Raw-food movement

Proponents of the raw-food diet maintain that eating whole foods promotes the elimination of most of the toxins coming from cooked food, since heating food at very high temperatures destroys important enzymes that aid in digestion[15]. Anyone whose consumption of raw food represents at least 75% of his total diet is considered a raw foodist”.[14]The movement became popular in the 90’s as high-profile celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson attributed their great-looking bodies and vital energy to a regular consumption of whole, live, nutritionally-dense, organic, uncooked and unprocessed foods.  The raw-food diet continues to be popular in the United States and in the UK [16].

Whole foods as an alternative to traditional medicine

Consumers are increasingly turning to whole foods that are known to have healing benefits instead of resorting to Western medicine for treatment. Some are turning to whole foods as a solution to health problems such as obesity, not only as a means to lose and control weight, but also in an effort to gain better health overall.

Others, including many baby-boomers who form a large proportion of the American population, are looking for ways to fight signs of ageing such as failing eyesight, aching joints and heart disease, and they perceive whole foods as part of a solution to their problems.

Superfoods  

According to a survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute in the United States, 90% of consumers have previously bought a product because of health claims printed on its label. Continuing awareness and education of the consumer about the health benefits of certain foods have also spurred a growing preference for super health foods that are packed with health-giving nutrients and require little or no processing to highlight their nutritional value.  These foods include blueberries, broccoli, oats, pumpkin, salmon, soy, spinach, tea, walnuts and yoghurt[18]Chocolate is a good source of trace elements and nutrients such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium as well as vitamins A, B-1, C, D, and E.  Moreover, cacao, the main ingredient found in chocolate, contains the highest natural source of magnesium, which some studies show diabetes, heart disease, joint problems and pre-menstrual syndrome. The antioxidant properties of the cacao bean, coupled with its high nutritional value of magnesium, sulphur and chromium, have attracted the attention of health-conscious consumers and sparked a debate whether chocolate should be considered a superfood as well[19].

Health scares

The health scares associated with processed foods and food additives are also contributing to the growing demand for healthier food choices. In 2008, a melamine contamination scandal in China caused leading chocolate products to be recalled from shelves all over the world[20], showing that a lack of regulation and poor-quality ingredients can not only be detrimental to one’s health, but also cause long-term damage to a company’s reputation.

Other potential health scares, such as acrylamide poisoning, which can occur when foods are processed at extremely high temperatures, also cause many people to consider incorporating more natural foods to their diet[21].

Conspicuous consumption effect

While benefits to one’s health continue to drive the increasing demand for natural food, buying natural foods has also been perceived as a status symbol, associated with more refined tastes and the ability to afford the luxury a healthier ilfestyle demands[22].

Whole foods used as natural medicine

Healthy food can provide the body with the nutrients, proteins, good fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals necessary for it to function at optimal capacity.  When combined with regular exercise, a healthy diet can contribute to the body’s vitality and can help prevent disease.

Studies by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1 and the American Society for Nutritional Sciences2 over the last two decades have consistently linked regular consumption of fruits and vegetables to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cataracts and some forms of cancer.  More particularly, the high concentration of phytochemicals and antioxidants present in whole foods are considered the key elements in health maintenance and disease prevention.  

While supplementation through vitamins and other products has become popular in the health-food market, many studies suggest nutrients are better absorbed by the body through whole foods as opposed to artificial supplements[23]  .  

According to these studies the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and enzymes found in whole foods act synergistically to fight disease, making them less effective when isolated from other nutrients.

The role of phytochemicals

The term “phytochemicals” or “plant chemicals” refers to biologically-active substances found in plants that provide them with colour, flavour and resistance to disease.  Studies have shown they can help reduce cell damage, stimulate the immune system and fight bacteria and viruses in the human body.  

To date, scientists have discovered thousands of phytochemicals in various plants, one of which is a substance known as procyanidin that is believed to lower the risk of heart disease. Cardiovascular disease can develop when LDL (bad cholesterol) is oxidised in the bloodstream, leading to the build-up of fatty plaques that clog the arteries. Studies show that procyanidin inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, promoting blood flow and improving cardiovascular health[24]In addition to fruits and vegetables, tea, red wine and dark chocolate are all rich sources of this antioxidant [25].

Whole foods trump processed foods

The key to maximising the nutrient value of foods is to consume them in their most natural state.  
Processing and cooking can not only destroy plant compounds and enzymes but may also produce harmful toxins. Whole foods, however, only require minimal processing to make them more edible, which doesn’t alter or minimise their health-giving properties. Moreover, processed foods usually contain additives to purposely enhance the colour, taste, and shelf life of foods, such as refined sugar, syrup, fat, oil, artificial flavour and colour. Without adding nutritional value, these additives may trigger allergic reactions or unduly burden to the body’s digestive system.

Chocolate as superfood

Raw chocolate has increasingly generated interest in the whole-foods market, following the publication of a number of studies3 that confirm the various health benefits associated with its main ingredient, the cacao bean. As a result, chocolate companies and small retailers are gradually promoting and labelling their products as health foods.

superfood chocolate for health

Benefits of chocolate   

Not all chocolate provides the same health benefits. Most chocolate being sold as candy bar is excessively processed and contains high amounts of milk, sugar and fat that can lead to obesity and diabetes when consumed regularly. In contrast, raw chocolate amplifies health benefits by maximising the nutritional properties of its natural and whole-food ingredients.

Fights heart disease

Chocolate contains high amounts of procyanidin, an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Scientific studies suggest that procyanidins improve the function of blood vessels by reducing the risk of blood clots and platelet formation in the arteries[26]. Furthermore, there is new evidence suggesting that heart attack survivors can reduce the risk of a second heart attack by eating chocolate several times a week[27].

The same polyphenols found in chocolate have also been proven to inhibit the oxidisation of LDL or bad cholesterol in the arteries, effectively lowering blood pressure. While red wine as well as black and green teas contain polyphenols, the concentration of polyphenols is higher in chocolate[28]: as little as six grams of dark chocolate a day, or the equivalent of one square, can lower blood pressure, bad cholesterol and maintain proper function of the lining of blood vessels[29].

Aside from polyphenols, chocolate also contains fatty acids called stearic acid and oleic acid that do not increase LDL levels in the blood.  Unlike animal fat, stearic acid is a neutral saturated fat that does not raise bad cholesterol. For its part, oleic acid, which is found in cocoa butter, is a monounsaturated fat similar to that found in olive oil, which helps raise good (HDL) cholesterol levels.

Chocolate is a good source of trace elements and nutrients such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium as well as Vitamins A, B-1, C, D, and E.  Moreover, cacao, which is the main ingredient of chocolate, is the highest natural source of magnesium.  Magnesium reduces the risk of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, joint problems and pre-menstrual syndrome.

Promotes sense of well-being

Chocolate contains small amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA), a mild mood elevator that naturally produces feelings of joy and love. It also contains tryptophan, a natural brain chemical associated with anti-depressant effects that stimulates the production of serotonin. Chocolate also boosts endorphin levels, which function as the body’s natural pain killers to help reduce sensitivity to pain[30].

REFERENCES

[1] http://www.who.int/whosis/whostat/2009/en/index.html

[2] American Heart Association, Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics — 2009 Update. Dallas, Texas: American Heart Association.

[3] www.euro.who.int/Document/E69846.pdf

[4] Muslim, N, “Gulf News” Heart diseases hitting UAE residents at a younger age, June 2007, UAE Ministry of Health, available at http://www.moh.gov.ae/en/NewsDetails259.aspx

[5] Australian Heart Foundation & Australian Medical Association, 30% of children at risk of future heart disease, July 2009, available at http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Aussie%20children%20overweight.pdf

[6] American Heart Association, Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics — 2009 Update. Dallas, Texas: American Heart Association, p. 16.

[7] Diamond, Harvey, “Fit for Life”, 1987, p.31.

[8] http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/fruit/en/index.html

[9] Food, Safety and Inspection Service, US Department of Agriculture, News Release ‘FSIS Issues Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Use of the Voluntary Claim “Natural” in the Labeling of Meat and Poultry Products’, 11 September 2009, available at  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_091109_01/index.asp

[10] Diamond, Harvey, “Fit for Life”, 1985, p. 43.

[11] Peter Shield, Whole Foods Market Puts UK into Organic Overdrive, June 2007 available at http://www.naturalchoices.co.uk/Whole-Foods-Market-Puts-UK-into?id_mot=7

[13] http://med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/index.htm

[14] http://www.rawfoodlife.com/starting_on_raw.html

[15] Ibid.

[16] http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/features/6687/The_best_raw_food_restaurants_and_cafes_in_London.html

[17] http://www.allbusiness.com/marketing/market-research/477809-1.html

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Raw: Your biggest questions answered by 12 of the world’s leading experts” edited by Sarah Best, 2009, p. 10.

[20] Lindsey Partos, Cadbury recalls all chocolate products made at Beijing plant, September 2008, Food Quality News, available at http://www.foodqualitynews.com/Public-Concerns/Cadbury-recalls-all-chocolate-products-made-at-Beijing-plant

[21] http://www.foodhaccp.com/memberonly/newsletter43.html

[22] http://www.wikinvest.com/concept/Natural_%26_Organic_Foods_Consumption?ref=relatedpages

[23] http://74.125.153.132/search?q=cache:W96xzq7lam4J:blogs.mercola.com/sites/vitalvotes/archive/2007/04/24/More-Proof-That-Whole-Foods-Are-Better-Than-Supplements.aspx+whole+foods+better+than+supplements&cd=4&hl=tl&ct=clnk&gl=ph

[24] Ryan, M, Chocolate: New Facts Come To Light, Todays Chemist at Work, Jul 1999, available at http://academic.uofs.edu/faculty/vinson/chocolate_new_facts_come_to_life.htm

[25] http://sci.tech-archive.net/Archive/sci.med.nutrition/2009-03/msg00003.html

[26] http://academic.uofs.edu/faculty/vinson/chocolate_new_facts_come_to_life.htm

[27] http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/chocolate-studies-headache/Story?id=8530685&page=3

[28] http://academic.uofs.edu/faculty/vinson/chocolate_new_facts_come_to_life.htm

[29] Small, Sweet and Healthful: A Square of Dark Chocolate a Day Offers Benefits,   August 06, 2008, http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2008-mchi/4927.html

[30] Patti Schmidt, Chocolate’s Potential Health Benefits – and its Effect on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients, March 29, 2002,  http://www.prohealth.com/library/showarticle.cfm?id=3464&t=CFIDS_FM

[31] http://www.whitedovebooks.co.uk/inspiration-alternativehealth/2009/08/choosing-best-chocolate-for-best-health.html

[32] Daniel J. DeNoon,WebMD Health News Aug. 27, 2003, http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20030827/dark-chocolate-is-healthy-chocolate

[33] http://www.purewellbeing.com/contents/en-uk/d87_Cacao.html

[34] http://food-facts.suite101.com/article.cfm/agave_syrup_may_not_be_helpful_for_diabetics

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