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oatThe ancient Romans regarded oats as a weed fit only for horses and Barbarians. Scottish settlers introduced oats to the US in the 1600’s, and today Russia is the largest producer of oats. A mere 5% of the oats grown worldwide is used for human consumption, and is most commonly used as feed for horses.


Different stages of processing oats:

Oat groats

This is the whole oat grain, with only the outer hull removed. Oat groats are extremely nutritious, but they need to be soaked and cooked a long time. Oat groats are usually processed into one of the other forms below.

Steel-cut oats

Produced by running groats through steel cutters, chopping the groats into smaller pieces and creating a chewy texture. Steel-cut oats still contain the whole grain and oat bran, and are also very nutritious.

Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats

Steaming groats and then flattening them with a roller make rolled oats.

Quick-cooking oats

Steaming and flattening steel-cut oats make quick-cooking oats.

Instant oatmeal

Produced by rolling more thinly and steaming longer or partially cooking the oats. Instant oatmeal will also have salt, sugar, and in some cases artificial sweeteners added to it.

The more processed the oats are, the less nutritious.

Health Benefits of Oats

  • Minerals
    Oats are a good source of magnesium, selenium, manganese and phosphorous.
  • Dietary Fiber
    Oats are also a good source of vitamin B1 and dietary fiber.
  • Protein
    The protein in oats is almost equivalent to the quality of soy protein, and combined with the dietary fiber, makes it the ideal food to start the day with.
  • Cholesterol
    Oats has become popular as healthy food due to its dietary fiber being high in beta-glucan, which helps to lower cholesterol. In individuals with high cholesterol levels, consumption of the equivalent of 3gr of soluble oat fiber per day lowers cholesterol by 8 – 23 percent. A reduction in serum cholesterol levels decreases the risk of developing heart disease.
  • Diabetes
    A study of adults with type 2 diabetes who consumed foods high in oat fiber, experienced a much lower rise in blood sugar than other participants who ate rice or bread. The beta-glucan in oats increases the viscosity of the contents of the stomach, thereby slowing down digestion and prolonging the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream.
  • Heart Disease
    A study at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, supported previous reports that a diet rich in whole grains such as oats is beneficial in the prevention of coronary heart disease.
  • Weight Loss
    In another study at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, it was determined that consumption of whole grains may contribute to favorable metabolic alterations that may reduce long-term weight gain.
  • Atherosclerosis
    Avenanthramides are phenolic antioxidants, which are present in oats, and have the potential to reduce plaque build in the artery walls, and may contribute to the prevention of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
Nutrient Values of Oats per 100g

Calories
389kcal
Energy Value
1628kj
Total Fat
06.90g
Carbohydrates
66.27g
Sugars
g
Dietary Fiber
10.6g
Protein
16.89g
Sodium
2mg
Zinc
3.97mg
Potassium
429mg
Iron
4.72mg
Magnesium
177mg
Copper
0.626mg
Calcium
54mg
Vitamin C
0.0mg
Vitamin E
mg
Vit. B3 (Niacin)
0.961mg
Vitamin B6
0.119mg
Vit. B1 (Thiamin)
0.763mg
Vit. B2 (Riboflavin)
0.139mg

http://www.elements4health.com/oats.html

Health Benefits

Lower Cholesterol Levels

A steaming bowl of fresh cooked oatmeal is the perfect way to start off your day, especially if you are trying to prevent or are currently dealing with heart disease or diabetes. Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal contain a specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan. Since 1963, study after study has proven the beneficial effects of this special fiber on cholesterol levels. Studies show that in individuals with high cholesterol (above 220 mg/dl), consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (an amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This is highly significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease. High cholesterol levels correlate with the build up of plaques in blood vessel walls. If these plaques become damaged or simply grow too large, they can rupture, blocking a blood vessel and causing a heart attack, stroke, or blood clots elsewhere in the body. Lowering high cholesterol levels can therefore significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as oats, helps prevent heart disease. Almost 10,000 American adults participated in this study and were followed for 19 years. People eating the most fiber, 21 grams per day, had 12% less coronary heart disease (CHD) and 11% less cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those eating the least, 5 grams daily. Those eating the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better with a 15% reduction in risk of CHD and a 10% risk reduction in CVD.

Unique Oat Antioxidants Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Oats, via their high fiber content, are already known to help remove cholesterol from the digestive system that would otherwise end up in the bloodstream. Now, the latest research suggests they may have another cardio-protective mechanism.

Antioxidant compounds unique to oats, called avenanthramides, help prevent free radicals from damaging LDL cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, suggests a study conducted at Tufts University and published in The Journal of Nutrition.

In this study, laboratory animals were fed saline containing 0.25 grams of phenol-rich oat bran, after which blood samples were taken at intervals from 20 to 120 minutes. After 40 minutes, blood concentrations of avenanthramides had peaked, showing these compounds were bioavailable (able to be absorbed).

Next, the researchers tested the antioxidant ability of avenanthramides to protect LDL cholesterol against oxidation (free radical damage) induced by copper. Not only did the avenanthramides increase the amount of time before LDL became oxidized, but when vitamin C was added, the oat phenols interacted synergistically with the vitamin, extending the time during which LDL was protected from 137 to 216 minutes.

In another study also conducted at Tufts and published in Atherosclerosis, researchers exposed human arterial wall cells to purified avenenthramides from oats for 24 hours, and found that these oat phenols significantly suppressed the production of several types of molecules involved in the attachment of monocytes (immune cells in the bloodstream) to the arterial wall-the first step in the development of atherosclerosis.

Oat avenanthamides suppressed production of ICAM-1 (intracellular adhesion molecule-1) and VCAM-1 (vascular adhesion molecule-1), E-selectin, and the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines KL-6, chemokines IL-8 and protein MCP-1 (monocyte chemoattractant protein). Our advice: Cut an orange (which is rich in vitamin C) in quarters or pour yourself a glass of orange juice to enjoy along with your oatmeal. If you prefer some other grain for your breakfast cereal, top it with a heaping spoonful of oat bran.

Prevent Heart Failure with a Whole Grains Breakfast

Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization among the elderly in the United States. Success of drug treatment is only partial (ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers are typically used; no evidence has found statins safe or effective for heart failure), and its prognosis remains poor. Follow up of 2445 discharged hospital patients with heart failure revealed that 37.3% died during the first year, and 78.5% died within 5 years. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Mar 12;167(5):490-6.;Eur Heart J. 2006 Mar;27(6):641-3.

Since consumption of whole grain products and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack, Harvard researchers decided to look at the effects of cereal consumption on heart failure risk and followed 21,376 participants in the Physicians Health Study over a period of 19.6 years. After adjusting for confounding factors (age, smoking, alcohol consumption, vegetable consumption, use of vitamins, exercise, and history of heart disease), they found that men who simply enjoyed a daily morning bowl of whole grain (but not refined) cereal had a 29% lower risk of heart failure. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Oct 22;167(19):2080-5. Isn’t your heart worth protecting, especially when the prescription-a morning bowl of hearty whole grains-is so delicious? For quick, easy, heart-healthy, whole grain recipes, click The World’s Healthiest Foods, and look at the “How to Enjoy” section in any of our grain profiles.

Significant Cardiovascular Benefits for Postmenopausal Women

Eating a serving of whole grains, such as oats, at least 6 times each week is an especially good idea for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

A 3-year prospective study of over 200 postmenopausal women with CVD, published in the American Heart Journal, shows that those eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week experienced both:

  • Slowed progression of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows the vessels through which blood flows, and
  • Less progression in stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways.

The women’s intake of fiber from fruits, vegetables and refined grains was not associated with a lessening in CVD progression.

Enhance Immune Response to Infection

In laboratory studies reported in Surgery, beta-glucan significantly enhanced the human immune system’s response to bacterial infection. Beta-glucan not only helps neutrophils (the most abundant type of non-specific immune cell) navigate to the site of an infection more quickly, it also enhances their ability to eliminate the bacteria they find there.

According to study leader Jonathan Reichner of the Department of Surgery at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University, priming neutrophils with beta-glucan helps these immune defenders quickly locate the bacterial mother lode within infected tissue. And this more rapid response to infection results in faster microbial clearance and healing. Since our non-specific immune defenses are the body’s first strike forces against invading pathogens, starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal may boost your immune response in addition to your morning energy levels.

Stabilize Blood Sugar

Studies also show that beta-glucan has beneficial effects in diabetes as well. Type 2 diabetes patients given foods high in this type of oat fiber or given oatmeal or oat bran rich foods experienced much lower rises in blood sugar compared to those who were given white rice or bread. Starting out your day with a blood sugar stabilizing food such as oats may make it easier to keep blood sugar levels under control the rest of the day, especially when the rest of your day is also supported with nourishing fiber-rich foods.

Oats and Other Whole Grains Substantially Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Oats and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion.

The FDA permits foods that contain at least 51% whole grains by weight (and are also low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol) to display a health claim stating consumption is linked to lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Now, research suggests regular consumption of whole grains also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes. (van Dam RM, Hu FB, Diabetes Care).

In this 8-year trial, involving 41,186 particpants of the Black Women’s Health Study, research data confirmed inverse associations between magnesium, calcium and major food sources in relation to type 2 diabetes that had already been reported in predominantly white populations.

Risk of type 2 diabetes was 31% lower in black women who frequently ate whole grains compared to those eating the least of these magnesium-rich foods. When the women’s dietary intake of magnesium intake was considered by itself, a beneficial, but lesser-19%-reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes was found, indicating that whole grains offer special benefits in promoting healthy blood sugar control. Daily consumption of low-fat dairy foods was also helpful, lowering risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%. Enjoy a hearty breakfast and get the benefits of both oats and dairy by serving hot oatmeal, spiced with cinnamon, and topped with handful of walnuts and low-fat milk.

Antioxidant Benefits

In addition to its fiber benefits, oats are also a very good source of selenium. A necessary cofactor of the important antioxidant, glutathione peroxidase, selenium works with vitamin E in numerous vital antioxidant systems throughout the body. These powerful antioxidant actions make selenium helpful in decreasing asthma symptoms and in the prevention of heart disease. In addition, selenium is involved in DNA repair and is associated with a reduced risk for cancer, especially colon cancer.

Fiber from Whole Grains and Fruit Protective against Breast Cancer

When researchers looked at how much fiber 35,972 participants in the UK Women’s Cohort Study ate, they found a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, such as oats, and fruit offered significant protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. (Cade JE, Burley VJ, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology).

Pre-menopausal women eating the most fiber (>30 grams daily) more than halved their risk of developing breast cancer, enjoying a 52% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women whose diets supplied the least fiber (<20 grams/day).

Fiber supplied by whole grains offered the most protection. Pre-menopausal women eating the most whole grain fiber (at least 13 g/day) had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest whole grain fiber intake (4 g or less per day).

Fiber from fruit was also protective. Pre-menopausal women whose diets supplied the most fiber from fruit (at least 6 g/day) had a 29% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest fruit fiber intake (2 g or less per day).

Cereal and Fruit Fiber Protective against Postmenopausal Breast Cancer

Results of a prospective study involving 51,823 postmenopausal women for an average of 8.3 years showed a 34% reduction in breast cancer risk for those consuming the most fruit fiber compared to those consuming the least. In addition, in the subgroup of women who had ever used hormone replacement, those consuming the most fiber, especially cereal fiber, had a 50% reduction in their risk of breast cancer compared to those consuming the least. Int J Cancer. 2008 Jan 15;122(2):403-12.

Fruits richest in fiber include apples, dates, figs, pears and prunes. When choosing a high fiber cereal, look for whole grain cereals as they supply the most bran (a mere 1/3rd cup of bran contains about 14 grams of fiber). A cup of oatmeal delivers 15% of the RDI for fiber. Start out your day with a bowl of hot oatmeal or if you prefer cold cereal, oatmeal granola, and you’ll be well on your way to meeting your daily RDI for fiber.

Whole Grains and Fish Highly Protective against Childhood Asthma

According to the American Lung Association, almost 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, which is reported to be responsible for over 14 million lost school days in children, and an annual economic cost of more than $16.1 billion.

Increasing consumption of whole grains and fish could reduce the risk of childhood asthma by about 50%, suggests the International Study on Allergy and Asthma in Childhood (Tabak C, Wijga AH, Thorax).

The researchers, from the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Utrecht University, University Medical Center Groningen, used food frequency questionnaires completed by the parents of 598 Dutch children aged 8-13 years. They assessed the children’s consumption of a range of foods including fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grain products. Data on asthma and wheezing were also assessed using medical tests as well as questionnaires.

While no association between asthma and intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products was found (a result at odds with other studies that have supported a link between antioxidant intake, particularly vitamins C and E, and asthma), the children’s intake of both whole grains and fish was significantly linked to incidence of wheezing and current asthma.

In children with a low intake of fish and whole grains, the prevalence of wheezing was almost 20%, but was only 4.2% in children with a high intake of both foods. Low intake of fish and whole grains also correlated with a much higher incidence of current asthma (16.7%). compared to only a 2.8% incidence of current asthma among children with a high intake of both foods.

After adjusting results for possible confounding factors, such as the educational level of the mother, and total energy intake, high intakes of whole grains and fish were found to be associated with a 54 and 66% reduction in the probability of being asthmatic, respectively.

The probability of having asthma with bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), defined as having an increased sensitivity to factors that cause narrowing of the airways, was reduced by 72 and 88% when children had a high-intake of whole grains and fish, respectively. Lead researcher, CoraTabak commented, “The rise in the prevalence of asthma in western societies may be related to changed dietary habits.” We agree. The Standard American Diet is sorely deficient in the numerous anti-inflammatory compounds found in fish and whole grains, notably, the omega-3 fats supplied by cold water fish and the magnesium and vitamin E provided by whole grains. One caution: wheat may need to be avoided as it is a common food allergen associated with asthma.

Health-Promoting Activity Equal to or Even Higher than that of Vegetables and Fruits

Research reported at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer, by Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Cornell University shows that whole grains, such as oats, contain many powerful phytonutrients whose activity has gone unrecognized because research methods have overlooked them.

Despite the fact that for years researchers have been measuring the antioxidant power of a wide array of phytonutrients, they have typically measured only the “free” forms of these substances, which dissolve quickly and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. They have not looked at the “bound” forms, which are attached to the walls of plant cells and must be released by intestinal bacteria during digestion before they can be absorbed.

Phenolics, powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to prevent disease, are one major class of phytonutrients that have been widely studied. Included in this broad category are such compounds as quercetin, curcumin, ellagic acid, catechins, and many others that appear frequently in the health news.

When Dr. Liu and his colleagues measured the relative amounts of phenolics, and whether they were present in bound or free form, in common fruits and vegetables like apples, red grapes, broccoli and spinach, they found that phenolics in the “free” form averaged 76% of the total number of phenolics in these foods. In whole grains, however, “free” phenolics accounted for less than 1% of the total, while the remaining 99% were in “bound” form.

In his presentation, Dr. Liu explained that because researchers have examined whole grains with the same process used to measure antioxidants in vegetables and fruits-looking for their content of “free” phenolics”-the amount and activity of antioxidants in whole grains has been vastly underestimated.

Despite the differences in fruits’, vegetables’ and whole grains’ content of “free” and “bound” phenolics, the total antioxidant activity in all three types of whole foods is similar, according to Dr. Liu’s research. His team measured the antioxidant activity of various foods, assigning each a rating based on a formula (micromoles of vitamin C equivalent per gram). Broccoli and spinach measured 80 and 81, respectively; apple and banana measured 98 and 65; and of the whole grains tested, corn measured 181, whole wheat 77, oats 75, and brown rice 56.

Dr. Liu’s findings may help explain why studies have shown that populations eating diets high in fiber-rich whole grains consistently have lower risk for colon cancer, yet short-term clinical trials that have focused on fiber alone in lowering colon cancer risk, often to the point of giving subjects isolated fiber supplements, yield inconsistent results. The explanation is most likely that these studies have not taken into account the interactive effects of all the nutrients in whole grains-not just their fiber, but also their many phytonutrients.

As far as whole grains are concerned, Dr. Liu believes that the key to their powerful cancer-fighting potential is precisely their wholeness. A grain of whole wheat consists of three parts-its endosperm (starch), bran and germ. When wheat-or any whole grain-is refined, its bran and germ are removed. Although these two parts make up only 15-17% of the grain’s weight, they contain 83% of its phenolics. Dr. Liu says his recent findings on the antioxidant content of whole grains reinforce the message that a variety of foods should be eaten good health. “Different plant foods have different phytochemicals,” he said. “These substances go to different organs, tissues and cells, where they perform different functions. What your body needs to ward off disease is this synergistic effect – this teamwork – that is produced by eating a wide variety of plant foods, including whole grains.”

Lignans Protect against Heart Disease

One type of phytochemical especially abundant in whole grains including oats are plant lignans, which are converted by friendly flora in our intestines into mammalian lignans, including one called enterolactone that is thought to protect against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. In addition to whole grains, nuts, seeds and berries are rich sources of plant lignans, and vegetables, fruits, and beverages such as coffee, tea and wine also contain some. When blood levels of enterolactone were measured in over 800 postmenopausal women in a Danish study published in the Journal of Nutrition, women eating the most whole grains were found to have significantly higher blood levels of this protective lignan. Women who ate more cabbage and leafy vegetables also had higher enterolactone levels.

A Well-tolerated Wheat Alternative for Children and Adults with Celiac Disease

Although treatment of celiac disease has been thought to require lifelong avoidance of the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats, recent studies of adults have shown that oats, despite the small amount of gluten they contain, are well-tolerated. Now, a double blind, multi-center study involving 8 clinics treating 116 children newly diagnosed celiac disease suggests oats are a good grain choice for children with celiac disease as well. The children were randomly assigned to receive either the standard gluten-free diet (no wheat, barley, rye or oats) or a gluten-free diet with some wheat-free oat products. At the end of the study, which ran for a year, all the children were doing well, and in both groups, the mucosal lining of the small bowel (which is damaged by wheat gluten in celiac disease) had healed and the immune system (which is excessively reactive in celiac patients) had returned to normal.

Meta-analysis Explains Whole Grains’ Health Benefits

In many studies, eating whole grains, such as oats, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. A new study and accompanying editorial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains the likely reasons behind these findings and recommends at least 3 servings of whole grains should be eaten daily.

Whole grains are excellent sources of fiber. In this meta-analysis of 7 studies including more than 150,000 persons, those whose diets provided the highest dietary fiber intake had a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.

But it’s not just fiber’s ability to serve as a bulking agent that is responsible for its beneficial effects as a component of whole grains. Wheat bran, for example, which constitutes 15% of most whole-grain wheat kernels but is virtually non-existent in refined wheat flour, is rich in minerals, antioxidants, lignans, and other phytonutrients-as well as in fiber.

In addition to the matrix of nutrients in their dietary fibers, the whole-grain arsenal includes a wide variety of additional nutrients and phytonutrients that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Compounds in whole grains that have cholesterol-lowering effects include polyunsaturated fatty acids, oligosaccharides, plant sterols and stanols, and saponins.

Whole grains are also important dietary sources of water-soluble, fat-soluble, and insoluble antioxidants. The long list of cereal antioxidants includes vitamin E, tocotrieonols, selenium, phenolic acids, and phytic acid. These multifunctional antioxidants come in immediate-release to slow-release forms and thus are available throughout the gastrointestinal tract over a long period after being consumed.

The high antioxidant capacity of wheat bran, for example, is 20-fold that of refined wheat flour (endosperm). Although the role of antioxidant supplements in protecting against cardiovascular disease has been questioned, prospective population studies consistently suggest that when consumed in whole foods, antioxidants are associated with significant protection against cardiovascular disease. Because free radical damage to cholesterol appears to contribute significantly to the development of atherosclerosis, the broad range of antioxidant activities from the phytonutrients abundant in whole-grains is thought to play a strong role in their cardio-protective effects.

Like soybeans, whole grains are good sources of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that may affect blood cholesterol levels, blood vessel elasticity, bone metabolism, and many other cellular metabolic processes.

Whole grains are rich sources of lignans that are converted by the human gut to enterolactone and enterodiole. In studies of Finnish men, blood levels of enterolactone have been found to have an inverse relation not just to cardiovascular-related death, but to all causes of death, which suggests that the plant lignans in whole grains may play an important role in their protective effects.

Lower insulin levels may also contribute to the protective effects of whole grains. In many persons, the risks of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are linked to insulin resistance. Higher intakes of whole grains are associated with increased sensitivity to insulin in population studies and clinical trials. Why? Because whole grains improve insulin sensitivity by lowering the glycemic index of the diet while increasing its content of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E.

The whole kernel of truth: as part of your healthy way of eating, whole grains can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Enjoy at least 3 servings a day. No idea how to cook whole grains? Just look at the “How to Enjoy” section in our profiles of the whole grains, or for quick, easy, delicious recipes, click on this link to our Recipe Assistant and select oats or whichever whole grain you would like to.

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=54

See  also:

http://www.eatmoreoats.com/health.html
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=54
http://health.learninginfo.org/benefits-oatmeal.htm
http://food-facts.suite101.com/article.cfm/health_benefits_of_oats
http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/oatmeals-health-claims-strongly-reaffirmed-15179.html
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/health-benefits-of-oatmeal.html
http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Review-backs-oats-heart-health-benefits

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cacao treeYou may be surprised to learn that cocoa is actually a FRUIT – and even more surprised to learn that it is actually one of the most healthy fruits commonly eaten by man!

Recent research studies have shown a link between cocoa and cardiovascular health, with reduced risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.

Cornell University food scientists discovered that cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidants found in green tea.

Raw cocoa has the highest antioxidant value of all the natural foods in the world!

The ORAC score per 100 grams of unprocessed raw cacao is 28,000, compared to 18,500 for Acai Berries, 1,540 for Strawberries, and only 1,260 for raw Spinach. The ORAC score for a typical manufactured Dark Chocolate is an impressive 13,120 – although one unique, organic, and non-roasted brand of Dark Chocolate has a much higher ORAC score. But for Milk Chocolate the ORAC score is much lower at 6,740.

Cocoa also appears to have anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. And cocoa is a good source of the minerals magnesium, sulphur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese; plus some of the B Vitamins.

When heart problems occur, magnesium is the most likely mineral to be missing in the person’s diet.

Cocoa has a high content of the “beauty” mineral, sulfur. Sulfur helps build strong nails and hair, promotes healthy and beautiful skin, helps detoxify the liver, and supports healthy functioning of the pancreas.

Fresh cocoa beans are super-rich in the type of bioflavonoid called flavanols which are strong antioxidants that help maintain healthy blood flow and blood pressure. The heart-healthy flavanols in cocoa, especially the epicatechins, prevent fatty substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and then clogging the arteries.

Flavanols help make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes – without the negative side effects associated with the use of aspirin (ASA) and other pharmaceutical blood-thinners.

Cocoa beans contain 10,000 milligrams (10 grams) of flavanol antioxidants per 100 grams – or an amazing 10% antioxidant concentration level! When it comes to supplying your body with effective antioxidants, no other natural food can even come close. No exotic super-fruit like Acai berries, no high-antioxidant fruits like prunes or blueberries, and no vegetables. The antioxidants in cocoa are easily absorbed by the human body, and are more stable and long-lasting than those in any other foods.

Cocoa also contains the amino acid Tryptophan which makes the neurotransmitter known as serotonin, which promotes positive feelings and helps keep us from feeling depressed. Cocoa contains the neurotransmitters dopamine, and phenylethylamine (PEA), and contains anandamide and MAO Inhibitors – which make this heart-healthy food a healthy food for the brain too.

Phenylethylamine (PEA) helps promote mental alertness and the ability to concentrate. The PEA in healthy chocolate can be of help to students taking tests, and to senior citizens who want to retain the mental capacity of a younger person and postpone the onset of dementia.

Studies have indicated that consuming dark chocolate produced an increased sensitivity to insulin (which indicates a protective effect against diabetes).

While you may have believed that cocoa and chocolate were “bad for you”, the truth is that THE RIGHT KIND OF CHOCOLATE provides many health benefits that make it not only “good for you” but better for your body than most of the fruits and vegetables your mother made you eat when you were a child.

Eating a healthy dark chocolate provides a sweet, sensual, sin-free pleasure, as well as some significant health benefits. A heart-felt gift of healthy dark chocolate to a loved one offers a heart-warming, delightfully delicious treat, as well as a super heart-healthy food that promotes a longer and healthier life.

If the pharmaceutical industry managed to produce a patented product that offered all the health benefits of cocoa, they would likely proclaim it a “miracle drug”! But since cocoa is widely available, is relatively inexpensive, and does not require you to pay for a doctor’s prescription nor pay fees to a dispensing pharmacy, you are not likely to hear many members of the medical establishment recommending chocolate for its many health benefits.

You may also be surprised to learn that dark chocolate can help you lose weight! Because it has appetite-suppressant properties, cocoa is often added to weight loss products to help control hunger.

While you may have been told that chocolate is “fattening”, the truth is that the fats found in cocoa butter are actually healthy fats! Cacao contains oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat which is also found in olive oil and is believed to raise the level of the “good cholesterol” known as HDL cholesterol (the acronym HDL stands for “High Density Lipid”).

Healthy chocolate can be of great benefit to tobacco smokers – but not just because they need lots of the antioxidants which neutralize the free radicals generated by the toxic compounds in tobacco smoke. A recent study in Switzerland indicated that dark chocolate may help prevent hardening of the arteries.

A 2006 clinical study by Swiss researchers found that within minutes of consuming dark chocolate, their test group of 20 smokers experienced a significant improvement in the function of the endothelial cells which line the artery walls. Smoking tobacco has long been linked to hardening of the arteries and an increase in the production of clot-forming platelets in the blood.

Raw cocoa beans contain over 300 chemically identifiable compounds. This makes cocoa one of the most complex food substances on Earth!

List of Healthy Substances Found in Raw Chocolate (Theobroma Cacao)

Many of the natural chemical compounds in raw cocoa or cacao beans and in organic dark chocolate have been discussed in scientific literature as being pharmacologically significant to health. Here is a partial list of these active substances in natural organic chocolate (and more are discussed below).

  • Anandamide (a neurotransmitter known as “the bliss chemical”)
  • Arginine (nature’s aphrodisiac)
  • Dopamine (a neurotransmitter)
  • Epicatechins (antioxidants)
  • Magnesium (for healthy heart function)
  • Serotonin (anti-stress neurotransmitter)
  • Tryptophan (anti-depressant amino acid)
  • Phenylethylamine (PEA) (controls the ability to focus attention and stay alert)
  • Polyphenols (antioxidants)
  • Histamine
  • Tyramine
  • Salsolinol

Magnesium – the Mineral Your Heart Needs

Is dark chocolate good for your heart? Research by Dr. Bernard Jensen indicates that the heart muscle requires these two minerals more than any other minerals: Magnesium and Potassium. In the heart muscle Magnesium is concentrated eighteen times greater than in the bloodstream. Magnesium helps regulate blood pressure and the heartbeat.

The overall strength and vigor of the heart muscle and its ability to pump effectively is enhanced by the presence of Magnesium, and this important mineral also decreases blood coagulation and thus can lower blood pressure.

Magnesium also balances brain chemistry, and helps build strong bones.

When heart problems occur, Magnesium is the most likely mineral to be missing in the person’s diet.

Eighty percent of Americans are deficient in Magnesium. This deficiency is linked to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, joint problems, and PMT.

Cocoa beans and organic dark chocolate are the #1 best food sources of this heart-supporting mineral, Magnesium. Can you see how a guilt-free daily dose of Magnesium-rich healthy chocolate could actually help lower your risk of heart disease?

Anti-Depressant Properties of Cocoa and Healthy Dark Chocolate

Cocoa is a potent source of serotonin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine. These are three well-studied neurotransmitters which help alleviate depression and are associated with feelings of well-being.

Cocoa contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO Inhibitors) which help improve our mood because they allow serotonin and dopamine to remain in the bloodstream longer without being broken down.

Cocoa also contains anandamide which stimulates blissful feelings. Cocoa also contains B vitamins, which are associated with brain health.

Vascular Health Promoting Properties of Cocoa and Healthy Dark Chocolate

Nitric Oxide (NO)

One research study discovered that a substance in cocoa helps the body process nitric oxide (a chemical compound designated as NO, where N = 1 Nitrogen atom, and O = 1 Oxygen atom). Nitric oxide or NO is a critical component in healthy blood flow and blood pressure control.

Vascular diseases, including Erectile Dysfunction (ED) which is common in men over age 40, are connected to the inability of an artery to make the simple but fundamental chemical called nitric oxide (NO). It appears that flavanols help reverse that problem. Thus eating healthy chocolate might help men over 40 to enjoy a more active sex life without having to rely on expensive drugs like Viagra™ or Celebrex™ or those many herbal concoctions which are touted in millions of unwanted emails.

Another research study showed that a type of bioflavonoid called flavanols in cocoa prevent fatty substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and then clogging the arteries. Flavanols also make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause blood clots.

Researchers are excited by the potential of flavanols to ward off vascular disease, which can cause hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and even dementia.

Antioxidant Properties of Cocoa and Healthy Dark Chocolate

Scientists have known for years that cocoa/cacao contains significant antioxidants, but no one knew just how rich they were in comparison to those found in two other healthy foods – red wine and green tea.

According to research cited in The New York Times, fresh cocoa beans are super-rich in the type of flavonoid called flavanols (not flavOnols) which are very strong antioxidants. Cocoa/cacao beans contain 10,000 milligrams (10 grams) of flavanol antioxidants per 100 grams – or an amazing 10% antioxidant concentration level!

Recent research has demonstrated that the antioxidants found in cacao beans are highly stable and easily available to the human metabolism. Of all known foods, cacao is also the ONLY food which does NOT lose its Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) over significant periods of time. This makes cocoa both the most POTENT source of antioxidants and a source of the most USABLE antioxidants found in any natural food.

Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and keep them from damaging the DNA and mitochondria of the body’s cells, which is a major cause of many degenerative diseases, cancer tumors, heart disease, and premature aging. Cells with damaged DNA cannot reproduce healthy new cells, but will reproduce damaged or malignant cells.

Cornell University food scientists discovered that cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidants found in green tea.

Their findings were published in an article entitled “Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals and a Higher Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine“, published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed publication.

The Cornell researchers, led by Chang Y. Lee, chairman of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, state the reason that cocoa leads the other drinks is its high content of antioxidant compounds called phenolic phytochemicals, or flavonoids.

A class of flavonoids known as flavanols or flavan-3-ols includes: catechin, epicatechin, and epigallocatechin. All three are found naturally in the cocoa bean. (Note that flavanols are NOT the same as another very similar-sounding class of flavonoids known as flavonols, which includes: myricetin, quercetin and kaempferol.)

The Cornell researchers discovered 611 milligrams of the phenolic compound gallic acid equivalents (GAE) and 564 milligrams of the flavonoid epicatechin equivalents (ECE) in a single serving of cocoa. Examining a glass of red wine, the researchers found 340 milligrams of GAE and 163 milligrams of ECE. In a cup of green tea, they found 165 milligrams of GAE and 47 milligrams of ECE.

By comparison, 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate delivers as many antioxidants as five ounces of red wine.

That makes cocoa one of the richest sources of antioxidants in any food!

Compare the raw cocoa bean’s 10,000 milligrams of flavanols per 100 grams to other forms of commercial chocolate…
Processed cocoa powder (defatted and roasted cocoa beans treated with potassium carbonate) and chocolate candy range in flavanol content from the more common concentration of 500 milligrams of flavanols per 100 grams of normal chocolate bars, to a concentration of 5,000 milligrams (5 grams) of flavanols per 100 grams of Cocoapro cocoa powder from the Mars Corporation.

Neither comes close to the high concentration of flavanol antioxidants in raw cocoa/cacao beans – 10 grams of flavanols per 100 grams.

ORAC Score – A Measure of Antioxidant Quality

The current standard for testing and measuring the antioxidant properties of various foods is called the ORAC Score. ORAC is an abbreviation for “Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity” – which is a measure of the amount of free radicals that can be neutralized by a certain mass of a food substance (usually cited as “per gram” or “per 100 grams” of the food substance).

The higher the ORAC score, the higher the concentration of antioxidants present in the food. (Source: US Department of Agriculture / Journal of the American Chemical Society.)

Free radicals are molecules that are missing one or more electrons and are therefore chemically imbalanced with a positive electrical charge. They are created in several kinds of chemical reactions which take place in our bodies, such as when we burn energy by working our muscles. To balance their charge, these radical molecules will seek to attract or “steal” electrons from other molecules – including the molecules which make up the DNA in your body’s cells which is the blueprint for producing new cells, and the mitochondria in your cells which create the energy to sustain the cells.

Cells with damaged mitochondria are weak and have lower energy and less resistance to disease. When the DNA of a cell is damaged by the action of free radicals, the result is the creation of imperfect new cells – or even malignant new cells which form tumors and cancers.

Free radicals are the cause of most degenerative diseases, premature aging, and the creation of cancer cells.

Antioxidants are molecules which have one or more extra electrons and are chemically imbalanced with a negative electrical charge, so they can attract and “donate” an electron to a positively-charged free radical molecule, which balances its electrical charge and thus neutralizes it. So that “thieving” radical molecule which is now electrically balanced no longer needs to “steal” electrons from the molecules which form our body’s cells.

Thus the more antioxidant molecules we have in our body, the more free radicals are neutralized, and the less damage is done to our cells. By preventing the damage to our DNA and mitochondria, antioxidants can stop and even reverse the aging process, and help prevent all kinds of degenerative diseases and cancers.

The ORAC value rates the capacity of the substance to prevent oxidation, i.e. its effectiveness as an antioxidant. It might help to compare the oxidation of molecules in our body to the oxidation of iron in an automobile – which we call “rusting”. Oxidized or “rusted” iron becomes brittle and weak, and eventually breaks down into a reddish-brown dust known as iron oxide. You could say that our bodies are “rusting out” from oxidation by free radicals! Ashes to ashes, and rust to dust!

But our bodies can be protected from this rusting by the antioxidants we get from eating natural foods which have a high ORAC value. Many natural foods have been supplying human bodies with those protective antioxidants since we first evolved, but the problem today is that we are not eating many natural foods! We consume far too many processed foods and junk foods which have had the protective antioxidants proocessed out of them! So we suffer more and more from many diseases such as cancer and heart disease, which were relatively rare problems for our ancestors who were eating nothing but whole foods fresh from the farm.

It’s very difficult today to avoid eating processed foods with inferior nutritional value, but we can at least try to eat enough whole foods (like cocoa or high-antioxidant fruits) or health supplements that supply us with enough antioxidants to protect us from degenerative diseases and the ravages of aging. We don’t have to grow old before our time, or suffer painful ailments, or die from horrible diseases that could have been prevented.

While the general public may be aware that they need to eat more raw fruits to get a good supply of antioxidants, the fruits most commonly eaten by North Americans are fairly low on the ORAC scale. Cantaloupe, banana, apple, apricot, peach, pear, and watermelon all have an ORAC score of less than 251 per 100 grams. No wonder the average North American is not getting enough antioxidants in his or her daily diet.

Even milk chocolate with its ORAC score of 6,740 provides significantly more antioxidants per gram than most of the commonly consumed fruits and vegetables – and more than even the top scoring fruits like prunes (5,770), pomegranate (3,307), blueberries (2,400) and blackberries (2,036).

The daily diet of the average North American only scores 1,000 to 1,500 on the ORAC scale. Nutrition experts tell us that it should be at least 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC. Some say it should be even more than 5,000.

Eating healthy chocolate, with its super-high ORAC value, can be an efficient and enjoyable way to boost your daily dose of antioxidants and reduce the ravages of free radicals.

Be careful not to assume that ALL organic chocolate or dark chocolate products (or any processed food product) are “healthy” just because they claim to contain ingredients which are known to have a high ORAC score. It does NOT necessarily mean that the finished product you are consuming will have a high ORAC score too.

There are several factors that can affect the actual ORAC score of a finished food product such as dark chocolate:

(1) how it is processed (excessive heat can destroy flavanols and reduce the amount of available antioxidants, which lowers the ORAC value),
(2) how much of the high ORAC ingredients are actually in the product,
(3) how some ingredients affect the ORAC score of other ingredients (e.g. adding milk to cocoa lowers its effective ORAC score to a little more than half because dairy products tend to block the absorption of the antioxidant flavanols in the cocoa).

Only ONE company (which markets a variety of truly healthy chocolate products) actually dares to show you an independent laboratory’s ORAC score per serving of its finished products right on their packaging (see “The Healthiest Chocolate” below) – so “what you see is what you get”.

For the reasons given above, all other chocolate makers seem unwilling to let you know the actual ORAC score of the products they are selling you. One might wonder if their effective ORAC score is too low to really be considered a “healthy” chocolate product?

Table of ORAC Values for Common Foods

Here is a comparison of the ORAC score per 100 grams for some common foods known to have a high antioxidant level, listed in descending order.

  • Unprocessed Raw Cacao – ORAC 28,000
  • Acai Berries* – ORAC 18,500
  • Dark Chocolate – ORAC 13,120
  • Milk Chocolate – ORAC 6,740
  • Prunes – 5,770
  • Wolfberry Juice – 3,472
  • Pomegranates – 3,307
  • Raisins – 2,830
  • Blueberries – 2,400
  • Blackberries – 2,036
  • Garlic – 1,939
  • Kale – 1,770
  • Cranberries – 1,750
  • Strawberries – 1,540
  • Tahitian Noni Juice – 1,506
  • Raw Spinach – 1,260
  • Raspberries – 1,220
  • Brussels Sprouts – 980
  • Plums – 949
  • Alfalfa Sprouts – 930
  • Steamed Spinach – 909
  • Broccoli – 890
  • Beets – 840
  • Avocado – 782
  • Oranges – 750
  • Red Grapes – 739
  • Red Bell Pepper – 710
  • Cherries – 670
  • Pink Grapefruit – 495
  • Kidney Beans – 460
  • Onion – 450
  • Corn – 400
  • Cauliflower – 385
  • Frozen Peas – 375
  • Potato – 300
  • Cabbage – 295
  • Banana – 210
  • Carrot – 200
  • Apple – 207
  • Tomato – 195
  • Peach – 170
  • Lima Beans – 136
  • Pear – 110

(*ORAC for Acai as determined by Brunswick Laboratories, USA.)

This will be important new information for millions of children and teenagers who hate the taste of brussel sprouts or broccoli. Now they can advise Mom that dark chocolate is a much healthier alternate source of antioxidants!

When comparing the antixodidant value (ORAC value) of foods you may actually be eating on a regular basis, another consideration is antioxidant value per calorie. What foods provide a healthy source of antioxidants without also providing too many calories from carbs and fats? Dark chocolate, in spite of the sweetener added to overcome the bitterness of raw cocoa, is actually one of the better providers of antioxidants per calorie!

One hundred grams of healthy dark chocolate (more than you would normally eat) provides 13,120 ORAC units of antioxidants and 552 calories of energy – which works out to 24 ORAC units per calorie.

That gives dark chocolate a better ORAC/calorie ratio than brussels sprouts (23), beets (20), plums (17), oranges (16), cauliflower (15), cherries (13), onions (12), cabbage (12), red grapes (10), tomato (9), head lettuce (9), string beans (6), potato (5), frozen peas (5), corn (5), carrot (5), apple (4), tofu (3), baked beans (3), pear (2), banana (2), or lima beans (1). In other words, if you are looking to increase your antioxidant intake from natural fruits and vegetables while consuming the least calories, eating a healthy dark chocolate is actually a lower-calorie source than all the common foods in this list!

And the ORAC per calorie ratio for dark chocolate (24) is about the SAME as two of the top antioxidant fruits – prunes (24) and raspberries (25). So it’s not necessary to worry about getting too many calories when consuming healthy dark chocolate as`a supplemental source of antioxidants, because you don’t need to eat very much dark chocolate`to absorb more antioxidants than you would get from many common fruits`and vegetables!

Can Chocolate Help You Be Happy?

We have all heard how chocolate can be a “comfort food” to help us cope with stress and depression and general unhappiness. There might actually be some connection between chocolate and happiness, when we look at certain chemicals which are found naturally in the cocoa/cacao bean and which can affect parts of the brain.

Phenylethylamine (PEA) in Cocoa

PEA is a chemical found in cocoa/cacao beans which increases the activity of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) in certain areas of the brain which control the ability to focus attention and stay alert. Elevated PEA levels occur naturally when we are captivated by a movie or good book, or are wholly focused on a project or task – when we lose track of time and are not consciously unaware of what is happening around us.

PEA is found in higher levels in the brains of happy people. Cocoa or dark chocolate has been found to contain up to 2.2 percent PEA (phenylethylamine).

Anandamide (The Bliss Chemical) in Cocoa

Anandamide (or n-arachidonoylethanolamine) is a neurotransmitter which has been isolated in cocoa in quantities which are significant enough to affect the brain. Anandamide is a cannabinoid naturally found in the human brain. Anandamide is a lipid (a fat) known as “the bliss chemical” because it is released when we are feeling good. (Anandamide is the English spelling; anandamine is the French spelling.)

It is true that anandamide has a similar effect to the compound THC in cannabis (marijuana), but it acts in a different way; acts only on certain groups of brain cells and not the whole brain; and thus creates blissful feelings with much less intensity.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAO Inhibitors) in Cocoa/Cacao

These rare MAO inhibitors actually produce favorable results when consumed, by allowing more serotonin and other neurotransmitters such as anandamide, dopamine and others to circulate in the brain. According to Dr. Gabriel Cousens, MAO inhibitors facilitate anti-aging and rejuvenation.

MAO inhibitors make one feel younger when they allow more neurotransmitters to remain in the bloodstream. A primary phenomenon that differentiates children from adults is the level of neurotransmitters in the blood and bodies of children. In general, as one lives longer and longer the level of neurotransmitters decreases. This leads to less creativity, less joy, more physical rigidity – and more rapid aging!

Cocoa, with its supply of MAO inhibitors, helps keep plenty of neurotransmitters in circulation, and thus helps prevent this unhappy phenomenon from occurring. “Think young – you’ll have more fun!”

Now that you have learned how cocoa contains PEA, Anandamide, and MAO Inhibitors, and learned about the happy effects these chemicals can produce, can you see how real chocolate might deserve to be called “the happiest food”?

Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac

The peoples of Central American in the pre-Columbian era often spoke in metaphors composed of words or phrases which had a hidden meaning when uttered in sequence. This is common in many languages, including English. One of these ancient metaphors was yollotl, eztli, meaning “heart, blood,” – a phrase which referred to cocoa. Chocolate is the heart’s “blood” due to its magnesium, antioxidants, love chemicals and esoteric properties. Chocolate truly is “food for the heart”.

Chocolate is a symbol of sensuality, pleasure, and sexuality. Some writers have claimed that 50 per cent of women actually prefer chocolate to sex! That percentage might even rise if the women were offerred real chocolate in the form of organic cocoa!

Chocolate is a favorite gift from a lover to the beloved one. Chocolates are always given as love offerings. A box of chocolates is one of the most popular gifts for Valentine’s Day.

Cocoa, because it is natural and unadulterated, has an even stronger love energy than manufactured chocolate candy. In ancient Aztec wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom would exchange five cacao beans with each other.

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