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June 18
1945 - PFC Johnny Cordova of Castaic killed in action on Okinawa [story]
Johnny Cordova

Take a Hike | Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jun 21, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelChocolate comes from the Theobroma cacao tree, which only grows in the tropics of West Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America and South America.

These tropical areas are hot and rainy climates that the cacao tree loves. Only a small ring above and below the equator supports the cacao tree.

The blossom is orchid-like and has a lovely, mild chocolate flavor. When I was in the Amazon basin, I picked one right off the tree and savored it. Once the tree blossoms, a fruit called a “pod” will form. Inside the pod are beans that are covered with a sweet, white pulp.

The farmer harvests the ripe pods by hand, splits them open and scoops out the white pulp. Then, he separates the beans from the white pulp and covers them with banana leaves to allow them to ferment. After fermenting, the beans are dried in the sun.

CocoaBeansThese steps insure that the beans are flavorful and ready for market. The beans are transported by the farmers on donkeys, in carts or rickety old trucks.

Once the beans reach the chocolate factories around the world, they are ground, pressed, heated and stirred. Rich, expensive, delightful chocolate is the result.

Chocolate has long been considered a treat around the world. But today, we are hearing more and more about chocolate being a super food. After all, it comes from a fruit, so why not? Cacao is loaded with flavonoids and theobromine. But without sugar, milk and butter it is bitter, chalky and just basically nasty. So, a box of chocolates might do you more harm than good.

Dark Chocolate HeapThe trick is to eat only dark, minimally sweetened chocolate, and eat only about four bars a week.

Here are some of the good things that chocolate can do for your health:

* Chocolate is a vasodilator. It widens the blood vessels, so it can reduce your blood pressure.

* It can improve your cognitive ability and help you to focus almost immediately.

* It can lower body fat. (Note: Eating too much chocolate with milk, sugar and butter will make you fat, but eating up to four dark chocolate bars per week will lower the amount of fat in your abdomen, according to a University of Granada study.)

* A chemical in the cacao bean called anandamide, which is a lipid (fat), activates dopamine receptors. One of the closest analogues to this chemical is THC, which is found in marijuana. The effect in the brain is similar. (So, eat chocolate instead.)

TheobromaCacaoGrandiflorum-Flower* The American Chemical Society presented a paper that proves stomach bacteria (bifidobacterium) transforms dark chocolate into an anti-inflammatory. The study showed that cardiovascular tissue inflammation was lessened, indicating this would reduce the risk of stroke.

* One of the chemicals in the cacao bean just might be able to improve your memory. Columbia University conducted a study where patients drank a beverage daily that contained high doses of cocoa bean flavanols. Memory tests showed these patients scored 25 percent higher than the control group. Brain scans also recorded increased function.

* A Swedish study showed dark chocolate cut the risk of heart failure by 33 percent with only two servings per week. A German study showed that only one square of dark chocolate a day reduced heart attacks by 39 percent.

DSCN0245Pods* Dark chocolate lowers the desire for sweet, salty and fatty food. So, it could help you to stick to your diet.

* An Italian study found that eating a dark chocolate bar every day helped patients’ insulin resistance drop by almost half.

* A Swiss study showed that stress hormone levels were reduced and that the metabolic effects of stress were somewhat mitigated by eating dark chocolate.

* High levels of flavanols were shown to contribute to protection from sunburn in London. Regular chocolate containing fewer flavaonols did not have the same protection from the sun.

* A study in Nottingham showed flavanols increase blood flow to key parts of the brain for two to three hours, which could improve alertness and performance.

* An Oxford study found that elderly persons who consumed foods high in flavanols throughout their lifetimes scored higher on cognitive tests that those who didn’t. (Flavonols occur naturally in chocolate, wine, grapes, grapefruit and tea.)

cocoa bean* Theobomine can suppress activity in the part of the brain called the vagus nerve, which could subdue a cough.

* In South America, diarrhea is treated with cocoa.

So, chocolate is good stuff. I suggest you talk to your doctor about incorporating chocolate into your diet. Don’t go overboard eating box after box of sweet chocolate candy.

Remember that all of these studies recommended unsweetened dark chocolate only, and in many cases, chocolate that was fortified with high quantities of flavanols.

But the fact that dark chocolate has a great deal of antioxidants should at least help the guilt factor. And if your doctor agrees that a limited amount of dark chocolate could be helpful to you, all the better. Happy eating.


Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.


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  1. Andrew says:

    If you are stressed I suggest you learn how to meditate because ever since I have started I have improved my life drastically. I have an overall sense of peace with myself and the world and have never been happier. My stress levels have gone to an all time low and It even helps me with my anxiety and panic attacks.

    If you want to learn how to meditate I suggest you read this story.


  2. Ed Olaechea says:

    Cacao is a superfood due to its high antioxidant value. It’s arguably the highest natural source of magnesium and contains different phytonutrients involved in different body functions related to energy and good mood.

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