by Frances Bekele and Antoinette Sankar
Nutraceuticals are foods or food products that provide health and medical benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease in addition to their basic nutritional value.
The nutraceutical potential of many foods are currently under investigation in many research laboratories worldwide.
Cocoa beans have flavonoids or flavanols. In the recent past, the antioxidant activity of flavonoids has been studied in detail. A particular group of flavonoids, namely, the flavan-3-ols (flavanols), has recently been reported to promote cardio-vascular health (Wan et al., 2000; Ding et al., 2006; Engler and Engler, 2006*). These flavanols such as catechin and epicatechin can make up as much as 10 percent of the dry weight in a cocoa bean. Epicatechin is, at least in part, causally linked to the reported vascular effects observed after the consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa (Schroeter et al., 2005). This and other polyphenols are said to prevent fat-like substances in the blood stream from oxidizing and clogging the arteries.
Other mechanisms by which flavonoids are hypothesised to elicit positive health effects include anti-inflammatory, anti-adhesive, anti-thrombotic, vasodilatory and anti-tumor effects (Nijveldt, R.J., et al. 2001).
Because white chocolate is composed primarily of the fatty components that are separated from the dark brown cocoa solids, it will not have the antioxidant or nutraceutical value of dark cocoa.
The on-going global research on the flavanols of cocoa is generating an increasing wealth of evidence that cocoa flavanols are promising as nutraceuticals with significant health and medical benefits.
Cocoa Research Centre staff members have participated in the groundwork to develop a project to produce nutraceuticals (from cocoa) locally in Trinidad and Tobago.
*For a bibliography, please contact the authors.