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National Chocolate Day – Cocoa for pleasure, nutrition and good health

I heard you on radio and saw you on television encouraging Ghanaians to consume more cocoa. You also said that cocoa can be consumed for pleasure, nutrition and good health. Kindly throw more light on the theme for the 2020 National Chocolate Day.

Permit me dear reader to start from the last enquiry. The theme for the 2020 National Chocolate Day is “My Chocolate Experience: My Holistic Wellbeing”. You will recall that the National Chocolate Day was instituted in 2005 to replace the usual Valentine’s Day celebrated globally on 14th February as a day of love. The common gift used by most people on this occasion is through gift of chocolate as expression of love or affection. Since Ghana’s name is synonymous with cocoa and cocoa over the years has emerged as a key foreign exchange earner for the country, it is deemed appropriate to use cocoa and for that matter chocolate to celebrate the occasion. Furthermore, Ghana’s cocoa worldwide is acclaimed to be of the highest quality. Indeed, it is still the yardstick or benchmark by which cocoa from other countries are graded. There are currently 22 cocoa producing countries with Ghana still having the enviable accolade of producing the best quality cocoa.

Chocolate triggers good feelings in many people. Just the smell, sight of it induces sense of euphoria in many people. This is linked to the chemicals released by the brain just by the sight or smell of chocolate. The feeling in the mouth is a further mood enhancing effect of chocolate. Yes, so chocolate is for pleasure or for love. 

Cocoa by virtue of its composition, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber, minerals and other phytochemicals is a complete food. Indeed, raw cocoa powder is a low calorie food. The beauty of this food is that one does not have to worry about excess calorie because cocoa powder is low calorie. For chocolate, there is a note of caution in consuming excess amounts. The chocolates for pleasure usually have less cocoa solids with the rest made up of substitutes such as milk and sugar. These can create health problems when consumed in high amounts over long periods. I do know that many chocolate lovers find this craving irresistible. Well, a little over-indulgence on a National Chocolate Day is permissible. There are also sweetened cocoa drinks which provide instant energy, especially when there is no time for the preparation of the usual local dish.

The health benefits of cocoa refer to the consumption of pure cocoa powder or dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. A lot of the health benefits of cocoa are related to its polyphenol content. There are several foods with polyphenols-apple, tea, berries. On weight basis however, cocoa is the richest food source of polyphenols. It means that 1g of cocoa contains far more polyphenols than 1g of apple. Polyphenols are strong anti-oxidants. The metabolic processes of the body generate reactive oxygen species (ROS)/free radicals. Physiologically, the body has a way of getting rid of these free radicals. There are situations where there is an imbalance between the free radicals generated and rate at which they are cleared from the body. The long presence of these free radicals tend to be inimical to the body’s wellbeing. This situation has been found to be the genesis of several diseases. Cocoa with high polyphenol content is a strong anti-oxidant and thereby protects the body against cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, and heart attack. Polyphenols reduce blood pressure, reduce blood sugar, and reduce bad cholesterol. They also boost the immune system of the body and thereby make us less liable to infections such as malaria. Polyphenol-rich cocoa protects against cancer. The notable anti-aging effects of cocoa is attributed to its high polyphenol content. Cocoa polyphenols improve brain perfusion and demonstrate neuroprotection and therefore improve cognitive functions such as learning and memory. It has been found to be of great benefit to persons with dementia and Alzheimers disease. Polyphenol-rich cocoa anti-platelet, that is blood thinning and useful for conditions such as infarctive stroke. Consumption of cocoa improves eyesight and improves the skin texture, both parts of its anti-aging effects.

One of the virtues found by the Aztecs and Incas of South America was the ability to perform strenuous tasks over long periods without fatigue. Cocoa polyphenols reduce the chronic fatigue syndrome. It is also beneficial for women with premenstrual syndrome.

Lately, a key finding is the effect of cocoa on the gut microbiota, the vast majority of which reside in the large intestine. The current finding is that the microbes in the gut safeguard the health of the individual against several diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, metabolic and endocrine disorders, and psychiatric disorders. The gut microbiota’s role in the maintenance of good health is now regarded as another organ of the body. These gut microbes thrive well on fiber and polyphenols of which cocoa has high amounts. So consumption of cocoa is also for our holistic wellbeing or cocoa is for life.

The consumption of cocoa should not be limited to such occasions but should be part and parcel of  everyday life. The benefits for increased consumption of cocoa would be tremendous. First of all, the cocoa farmer benefits because each bag of cocoa he sells as component in-built to enrich the farmer further. The increased demand will translate to increased processing and spin offs into job creation for more of us. The accrued health benefits will reduce cost of health care. All these will lead to more wealth creation for our dear country-Ghana. Cocoa is love, Cocoa is life.

DR EDWARD O. AMPORFUL

CHIEF PHARMACIST

GHANA COCOA BOARD

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