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CHOCOLATE – IS THIS A SUPERFOOD?

06 Apr

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I am sure that over the Easter holiday a large majority of people will have enjoyed the pleasure of eating Chocolate and a gift of chocolate will have given joy and excitement to many. Chocolate companies have referred to a variety of subjects to make it attractive to a wide range of people of all ages. From chocolate Kitty’s to chocolate frogs and boxes displaying a wide range of flavours and tastes  with nuts, chilies and fruit. It seems never ending. Some of the first advertisements promoted chocolate. Maybe some of you will recall the adverts where the daring hero bravely combats precarious weather conditions and situations to a supposedly inaccessible lady  to deliver a box of chocolates with the catchy words ” all because the lady loves Milk tray”!

As a child chocolate was something we only ate at Christmas and Easter and birthdays and was considered a real treat. However, every night before bedtime my father made a cocoa drink for my brother and sister and me. I was fascinated about the consistency of the cocoa in the milk as if was difficult to blend and how it was important to mix it with a small amount of milk before filling the mug with warm milk. It was always welcomed on a cold, frosty night the comfort of warm mug of cocoa, especially as we had no central heating. My father often told me stories about the people who grew and prepared it in the Caribbean where he had travelled many times as a young sailor. It was not surprising, how excited I was, at the age of 7yrs when my teacher, Miss Baird ordered a pack from the Caribbean embassy to demonstrate the stages of cocoa and chocolate production. I still feel the excitement writing about receiving that pack, even though I have been able to travel to see it grown for myself and visited factories where chocolate is made.

When we lived in France and the children attended school in a small village I realised how important chocolate was in French life. Our youngest child attended the ‘Maternelle, ( the nursery) and it became apparent that each child was gently settled into school by being given small pieces of chocolate at regu!lar intervals to settle them in. All the children at 4 o ‘ clock every afternoon for ‘ gouter’ were given a piece of baguette with a piece of chocolate. It is not surprising that my daughter is now a chocoholic! In the school were poor country children who had virtually no toys but were never deprived of chocolate! Likewise their parents always have a cup of coffee with a piece of chocolate.

Moreover, when I visited Kew Gardens this weekend, low and behold, the event for children was to discover was where chocolate comes from and how it is made.

http://www.kew.org//visit-Kew-gardens/what’s-on/easter

Besides a visit to these beautiful gardens there is still a chance to take part in this event encouraged by Shaun the Sheep! A visit to the Palm house or the Princess of Wales Conservatory to find the cacao tree with the hanging pods and then follow a trail to Joseph Banks building to take part in the workshops.

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From bean to chocolate baa

Chocolate beans in a pod
Chocolate workshops showing you how chocolate is made, from the cacao bean to the chocolate baa – run by Chocolution experts in all things chocolaty.

Event date:

28 March 2015 to 12 April 2015, 11am to 4pm
Event details:
Pre-booked 30 minute timed sessions, pre book online 24 hours prior to your sessions or the wo
Price:
Adults £5; Members and children £4; Families £15 (2 adults, 2 children); Families members £13; (entry to the gardens not included)
Venue:
Joseph Banks Building

Theobroma ( meaning food of the gods) cacao also cacao tree and cocoa tree, is a small evergreen tree in the family Malvaceae, native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America. Its seeds, cocoa beans, are used to make cocoa mass, cocoa powder, and chocolate.

The cocoa “beans” that form the basis of chocolate are actually seeds from the fruit of the cacao tree. The seeds grow inside a pod-like fruit and are covered with white pulp.To make chocolate, cocoa farmers crack open the pods, scoop out the seeds, ferments them and dries them.

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The beans are shipped to factories, where manufacturers inspect and clean them, then roast and grind them into a paste called chocolate liquor. More pressing, rolling, mixing with sugar and other ingredients, and heating and cooling yields delicious chocolate.

Researchers observed that the Kuna Indians of Panama, who drank cocoa as their main beverage, had very low blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.

Today chocolate is the ‘sweet snack of the people’ but many years ago, as a part of their rituals, Mayan and Aztec nobles drank their cocoa beans ground and brewed with chillies. When it first arrived in Spain in the 16th century some didn’t like it, one even proclaiming it ‘fit for pigs’. Sugar was added and it grew in popularity especially with the ladies of the Spanish court. Chocolate became a European luxury, with chocolate houses frequented by the elite springing up in the capital cities. Debates centred around its medical value, and whether it was it an aphrodisiac. Chocolate went on to be used as emergency rations for armies, navies and rescue teams, and eventually became a ‘luxury’ that everyone could enjoy.

 Cocoa is a good source of iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc. It also contains the antioxidants catechins and procyanidins.
Brand experts have sought to associate chocolate, and in particular dark chocolate, with the supposed health benefits of cocoa, which include protection against cancer and stress relief.

IS CHOCOLATE A SUPERFOOD?

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Blood pressure
A well-conducted 2012 review of the best available evidence on the effects of chocolate on blood pressure concluded that cocoa products – including dark chocolate – may help to slightly lower blood pressure. However, most of the studies were of short duration (between two and eight weeks) and there were some weaknesses in the available research. The authors of the review say longer term trials are needed to further our understanding of cocoa’s effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

Cancer
Some limited animal and laboratory research suggests a cocoa-rich diet could offer protection against bowel cancer. However, it’s impossible to conclude from research carried out in a laboratory that cocoa can protect people against bowel cancer.

Stress
In a small study from 2009, 30 healthy people who were given 40g of dark chocolate a day for 14 days experienced a reduction in stress hormones. However, the study, which was funded by a major chocolate manufacturer, had several limitations, including its short study period, and does not provide any evidence that chocolate as any benefits or effects on stress.

The dietitian’s verdict
Alison Hornby, a dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson, says it’s important to remember that the studies on the health benefits of chocolate have focused on cocoa extracts, not chocolate.

She says: “A range of health benefits from the consumption of cocoa products have been investigated, particularly in relation to cardiovascular disease, with early results showing promise.
“However, the potential health benefit of some compounds in the chocolate have to be weighed against the fact that to make chocolate, cocoa is combined with sugar and fat.

“This means chocolate is an energy-dense food that could contribute to weight gain and a higher risk of disease. As an occasional treat, chocolate can be part of a healthy diet.

Sorry! Eaten too frequently, it is an unhealthy choice, but some cocoa nibs (unprocessed cocoa beans broken into bits) in a smoothie might be a better choice ! ( obtained in Holland & Barrett)

However, I am sure many people have enjoyed a Happy Easter by sharing some chocolate.

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