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Chocolate, The New Super Food

Monday, July 15, 2013 @ 12:07 AM  posted by mahmuda

In order to continue the discussion about chocolate as a legitimate super food; we need to first answer a few questions;

1. What is a free radical
2. How do they harm our bodies
3. How do foods high in anti-oxidants protect us from free radicals and promote health

The best way to answer the above questions is to go back to a time long forgotten, J.H.S. chemistry class. Remember the chart on chemical bonding that showed the protons and neutrons in the circles? Well that was really important stuff, here’s why;

Do you remember hearing that the body is composed of many different types of cells and molecules, which consist of one or more atoms of one or more elements connected by chemical bonds.

Certainly by now this is all coming back. For example, by now you remember that atoms are made of neutrons, protons and electrons. Protons are positively charged, neutrons are negatively charged.

The number of positively charged protons in the atom’s center, or nucleus determines the neutrons on the atoms outer rings. Electrons desire to create chemical reactions with other atoms forming molecules.

The atom usually has two rings where the electrons hang out. The inner ring is full when it has two electrons. Once the inner ring is full the remaining electrons move to the outer ring. When the outer ring has eight electrons, it is full.

Atoms are driven to fill its outer shell with electrons. When an atom has a full outer shell it is stable and not likely to enter into chemical reactions with other atoms.
Here is where it gets interesting, when an atom has less than a full outer shell it will pick up or drop electrons to fill out its outer shell or join other atoms to form molecules by sharing the outer shell.

Free Radicals

When bonds split they often leave atoms with an odd number of electrons on the outer shell. These are “Free Radicals” begin to attack stable cells. When the attacked cell looses its electron it is now a free radical that attacks other stable cells. This activity of cell attacking cell, gone un-check can result in disease.

Anti-Oxidants

We have this cellular war going on in our bodies. This is the normal process of life. Through the normal course of living, being exposed to pollutants, built up over time we build up free radicals in our bodies.
Anti-oxidants neutralize free radicals by giving them one of their electrons. The free radical no longer needs to attack stable cells because the anti-oxidants gave it the electron it needed. The bottom line is this, a diet high in anti-oxidants will neutralize free radicals in our bodies and promote cellular health.

Oxygen Retention Absorption Capacity (ORAC)

The term antioxidant is commonly used but not clearly understood. Our goal is to increase understanding of the term, particularly as it relates to chocolate. To accomplish our goal we will loosely tie our earlier disciussion of free radicals to chocolate. Next we will discuss the United States Department of Agriculture’s Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods. Finally we will present a chart that clearly shows how chocolate ranks when compared to other foods with a high antioxidant value.

A Free Radical is a cell with an uneven number of electrons. Because of this electron imbalance the cell starts oxidizing or becomes diseased and can die. It is driven to acquire the needed electron to complete its outer shell, making it stable. Usually it attacks the nearest cell in an attempt to acquire the needed electron, essentially starting a snowball like effect of cells attacking cells, or disease.

Many diseases related to aging are partly caused by oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Evidence pointing to the positive role of antioxidants in the prevention and cure of the following diseases is mounting;
• Heart Disease
• Alzheimer’s
• Stroke
• Certain Cancers
• Parkinson’s

Antioxidant is a molecule that acts to neutralize free radicals by giving them the electrons they need to become stable thereby stopping the oxidation process. Simply put, a diet high in antioxidants provides the body the ability to neutralize free radicals, preventing or slowing of the oxidation process.

ORAC measures total antioxidant power of selected foods. The United States Department of Agriculture ranked 277 foods to determine their relative antioxidant capacity. The foods with the highest antioxidant levels have a greater capacity to neutralize free radicals.

The following chart is a sample of the USDA’s ORAC ranking of foods:

Food                                            ORAC Value                                    Food                     ORAC Value
Sorgum, bran, black                      9700                                               Garlic                             5346
Cumin                                                7680                                               Red Wine                      3873
Basil, dried                                       64439                                             Apple                              3082
Dark Chocolate                               40200                                           Broccoli                          2809
Sage, fresh                                        32004                                           Oranges                         1819
Bluberries                                         6552                                              Green Tea, brewed       1128
Plums                                                6559                                              Apricot                            1115
Soybeans                                          5764                                             Bananas                          875

USDA ORAC Value of Selected Foods, 2007

Chocolate a Super Food, Maybe, Maybe Not

We have known all along that a balanced diet goes a long way to insuring longevity and health. Clearly there are a plethora of foods. The above chart is a representation of the ORAC value of selected foods. According to the USDA, dark chocolate is extremely high in antioxidant power. Dark Chocolate is Higher than all fruits and vegetables, only sorghum and certain spices exceed the antioxidant power of dark chocolate.

Does the above make chocolate a Super Food? Maybe, maybe not. I hope that it at least helps us understand why some are calling dark chocolate a “Super Food.”

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