The research is piling up that soda is bad for your brain, as are other added sugars. An animal study from Oregon State University found that a high-sugar diet led to cognitive impairments, including memory problems. And a UK study recently found the “tipping point” at which blood sugar negatively affects the progression of Alzheimer’s. “Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets,” study author Dr. Omar Kassaar of the University of Bath said in a press release.
The protective effect of antioxidants continues to be studied around the world. For instance, men who eat plenty of the antioxidant lycopene (found in tomatoes) may be less likely than other men to develop prostate cancer. Lutein, found in spinach and corn, has been linked to a lower incidence of eye lens degeneration and associated blindness in the elderly. Flavonoids, such as the tea catechins found in green tea, are believed to contribute to the low rates of heart disease in Japan.
A recent study published in Hypertension showed that performance on cognitive tests significantly improved in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment if they consumed a daily cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols for eight weeks, compared to those who consumed a low-flavanol cocoa drink. (Flavonols are a member of the polyphenol family—compounds found in natural plant food sources that have antioxidant properties.) Because dark chocolate contains more cocoa solids than other types of chocolate, it naturally contains more flavanols.
Chocolate’s lengthy history is believed to go all the way back to 1900 B.C. This is when the the Aztec civilization believed that cacao seeds were a gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. They used the seeds to prepare a bitter, frothy beverage that also included spices, wine or corn puree. (22) It was very different from today’s super sweet milk chocolate treats but closer to a very minimally processed dark chocolate made from raw cacao.
Interestingly enough, even human breast milk was analyzed and results were 2.0 (higher than the manufactured formulas). The highest numbers came from the herbs and traditional medicine category with numbers off the charts. For example dried amla (Indian gooseberry) with 261.5 mmol/100 g. Upon closer inspection of the types of foods, there was no indication of comparison with conventional and organically grown foods. This would be an important distinction for further study considering the results of a study on organic versus conventional strawberries discovered that organic strawberries had a higher antioxidant content.
No introductions are needed for this highly treasured food that dates back to 2000 BC. At that time, the Maya from Central America, the first connoisseurs of chocolate, drank it as a bitter fermented beverage mixed with spices or wine. Today, the long rows of chocolate squares sitting neatly on your store shelves are the end result of many steps that begin as a cacao pod, larger than the size of your hand. Seeds (or beans) are extracted from the pod and fermented, dried, and roasted into what we recognize as cocoa beans. The shells of the bean are then separated from the meat, or cocoa nibs. The nibs are ground into a liquid called chocolate liquor, and separated from the fatty portion, or cocoa butter. The liquor is further refined to produce the cocoa solids and chocolate that we eat. After removing the nibs, the cocoa bean is ground into cocoa powder that is used in baking or beverages.