Thesis: The development and distribution of cocoa has had a positive effect on today’s society because of it’s active role in daily health.
I. History of Cocoa
A. Kakahutal Mayan and Aztec Culture
B. Introduction to Europe
C. Cocoa Press
II. Mental and Physical Health
1. Stearic Acid
2. Oleic Acid
D. Kidney Stones
E. Chemical Craving Theories
Chocolate, one America’s top industry’s. We produce more chocolate and chocolate products than any other country, over 2.9 billion pounds a year. There has been much controversy about the lack of nutritional value of in it’s contents, yet new studies have shown that cocoa, used to make chocolate, can be good for you. The development and distribution of cocoa has had a positive effect on today’s society because of it’s active role in daily health.
Cocoa was last dated back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures in 1502. On Columbus’ last voyage he brought a few cocoa beans from the new world to Spain but they were introduced as nothing more than seeds and so they were forgotten. Until 1519 when the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez landed during his expedition to Mexico he came upon the people known as the Aztecs. While there he dined with many of the rich and powerful people of this society. He reported that these people drink amazing amounts of something they called choclatl (Chocolate! 12). Chocolatl a beverage made from corn meal, chili peppers, vanilla, and kakahutal or cocoa as it’s known today. Cortez figured the if an Aztec king liked chocolatl, a Spanish king would too. So he brought some beans to Europe as one of the fabulous treasures from America.
The Spanish royalty called their new drink chocolate. They sweetened it with sugar or honey and flavored it with cinnamon. But since the Spanish couldn’t get enough beans for themselves, they didn’t want to share them with anyone else. They kept the secret so well that, for many years, very few people in Europe knew about chocolate. When the secret finally leaked out, only rich people could afford the luxury. But soon more and more beans were being grown, and better ways of turning them into chocolate were discovered. Chocolate became so popular that cocoa pubs, houses where you can go eat and drink all the chocolate you wished, popped up across the English countryside. Cocoa was the first great stimulant to be used by the European society, having achieved widespread popularity before coffee and tea (Friedman 75).
In 1828, the Dutch inventor Conrad van Hbuten perfected the cocoa press, which separated the beans into cocoa butter and cocoa powder, making possible the first bar of solid chocolate. With the addition of sugar, and later milk, chocolate became the food that stole the whole world’s heart (Friedman 75).
Because chocolate is so high in fat, roughly half its’ content, many theories about its’ effects have evolved. One of them is that chocolate causes migraines and headaches, which just happens to be false. Dr. Dawn A. Marcus of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center conducted a study of 63 women who suffer from migraines. Participants ate either chocolate or carob, which tastes like chocolate. The two groups suffered the same number of migraines within the next 12 hours. Although the study was conducted with women the findings are applicable to men. “Most of the triggers and therapies for headaches in men and women are the same, so one would predict similar results with the male population,” Marcus says (Chocolate’s Not a Culprit 66). Women report dietary triggers of headaches more frequently than men, and more women are beginning to suffer from migraines.
High cholesterol levels have also been blamed on chocolate. For many years it has been seen as a arterychoking low-density lipoprotein. Nutritionists have now observed that some forms of saturated fats have no effect on cholesterol. One third of the fat in chocolate is a cholesterol-friendly saturated fat called stearic acid, while another third is a healthy unsaturated fat called oleic acid. In addition new research from wine chemists at the University of California at Davis reveals that cocoa contains the same antioxidants, called flavonoids, that red wine contains. These flavonoids have been proven to aid in the fight against heart attacks by retarding the oxidation of lipoproteins which would normally break down into foam cells that clog blood vessels.
It has also been reported that many women have cravings for chocolate as though it were and addiction. Over a decade ago Massachusetts Institute of Technology began the search for a link between food and mood. They found that various foods high in sugar and starch boosted a potent brain chemical called serotonin which brought about the feeling of calmness and general mood stability. They also found that women didn’t just crave sugar for it’s calming effects, they also craved fat for it’s mood-elevating effects. Fat was found to release endorphins which energized the mind and lifted the spirit (Waterhouse 81). Chocolate having the perfect combination of 50 percent sugar and 50 percent fat, as well as many other characteristics that account for it’s unmatched biological, physiological, and psychological experience, was found the most craved food. As research has also found that a change in estrogen levels can also cause cravings it can be noted that what women biologically crave is a reflection of what the female body biologically needs.
In 1994 a French study published in journal Hormone and Metabolic Research showed that eating a single chocolate bar can raise the amount of oxalate in a subjects’ urine by 213 percent. High urinary oxalate levels can cause kidney stones in susceptible individuals. Linda K. Massey, R.D., Ph.D., a professor of food science and human nutrition at Washington State University in Punman, reported in the August 1993 journal of the American Diabetic Association that chocolate is one of only eight foods that cause a significant increase in urinary oxalate excretion (Friedman 78). Beets, rhubarb and spinach induce even higher levels of urinary oxalate.
Indeed, the pick-me-up effect from eating chocolate is due less to caffeine than to caffeine’s pharmacological cousin, theobromine. This little-investigated chemical seems to have effects similar to caffeine, and is present in much higher amounts in chocolate than in other foods. Whether one can get hooked on theobromine has not been proved, but a 1991 University of Pennsylvania study published in the journal Appetite theorized that because theobromine has a chemical structure similar to caffeine, it may very well be.
Most experts agree that there is a real chemistry in the craving for chocolate. One psychiatrist, Michael Liebowitz, from Columbia University found a substance in cocoa called phenylethylamine that seemed to trigger euphoric feelings like those associated with falling in love (Jaret 33). But unable to find any evidence that the compound induces elation Liebowitz abandoned the theory.
Adam Drewnowski, who directs the human nutrition program at the University of Michigan, believes that when taste buds begin to tingle with the sensory delight of chocolate, the brain releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemical.
Whether it is prompted by theobromine, phenylethylamine, or endorphins, or a combination of the three our brains signal pleasure at the first taste of chocolate. Or maybe it’s the fact that the melting point for cocoa butter just happens to be 98 degrees, which is why its melts when it hits your tongue. The cocoa butter absorbs the heat and adds a cooling sensation, while the many complex aromas and flavors are released. It’s a sensation so unique that food chemists have never been able to duplicate it in the lab.
Clearly new studies have shown that cocoa, used to make chocolate, can be good for you. And like all things in life there are some negative effects, but those consequences can be avoided in the case of cocoa products. The development and distribution of cocoa has had a positive effect on today’s society because of it’s active role in daily health. This has been proven not only through the history of distribution behind cocoa, but also it’s physical and mental effects on the human body. It has become a part of our religious society and will always have a special place in our hearts.
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Jaret, Peter. “Three Cheers For Chocolate.” Health 11 (1997): 30-33.
Waterhouse, Debra. “Why Women Need Chocolate.” Good Housekeeping 220 (1995): 81-88.