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    Monday, March 12, 2007

    And when I thirsted, gave a draught from the full clustering cocoa’s height,  and smiling, blessed me as I quaffed: The miracle food:

    Not even Willy Wonka, Roald Dahl's eccentric chocolate-maker, could have dreamt that his scrumptious products might one day offer the world a panacea.

    But scientists are close to claiming just that. A compound in unrefined cocoa has health benefits that may rival those of penicillin and anaesthesia, they say.

    Hmmm, sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is:

    Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has spent years studying the Kuna people in Panama. He found that four of the most common killers - stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes - affected fewer than one in 10 of the Kuna.

    What is the average life expectancy of the Kuna? Do they live long enough to have strokes, heart disease, cancer and diabetes? Do they eat refined sugars and breads? Are they a tight genetic group with DNA that gives them a leg up against the diseases of aging? All of the above? If you take away their chocolate but leave them on their islands, would they have those diseases at higher rates? So many questions, so few answers.

    The paper was from a Cocoa Symposium. They didn't take the cocoa away from the islanders, but instead took the islanders away from the island:

    In the PNAS paper and at the Cocoa Symposium, Hollenberg reviewed data he's gleaned from studying two genetically similar populations of Kuna Indians, people renowned for their cocoa consumption. One group of the Kuna lives on the San Blas islands off Panama. The other consists of migrants residing on the mainland in Panama City.

    In earlier work, Hollenberg reported that the island-dwelling Kuna had significantly lower blood pressure than their mainland kin did (SN: 3/2/02, p. 142: Available to subscribers [here-ed]). One difference between the populations: The islanders drank an average of 5 cups of cocoa daily, but the mainland group downed fewer than 4 cups per week.

    Schmitz notes that the two populations also drank different cocoas. Traditionally, island-dwelling Kuna take fresh-picked cocoa beans and dry them under the sun. Then, they grind the beans into a powder for use in foods and drinks. "Effectively," he says, "they're consuming about as close to fresh cocoa as one can get." By contrast, the islanders' mainland kin now tend to drink commercial cocoas that have been as heavily processed as U.S. cocoas. The products also retain as little of the starting flavanols as most U.S. products do.

    No doubt other aspects of their diet and lifestyles are different, too. Still too many variables. Convince some of those islanders to live life without cocoa and see what happens, then we can sing chocolates praises. But, if you must try it, here's an old Mayan recipe (and some information on the medicinal value of chocolate in the olden days.)

    posted by Sydney on 3/12/2007 10:02:00 PM 0 comments


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