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01.05.2007 Health

Natural Cocoa Powder: A New Drug Or A Functional Food?

For many consumers of natural cocoa powder the desire to know the secret behind the magic of cocoa powder still goes on.

This was evident in a study carried out in Tema recently at a particular shop and covered a period of one month. It was intended to seek the comments of buyers and consumers of natural cocoa powder on various matters.

The subject of this article, which is the status (drug or otherwise) and impact of natural cocoa powder on one's health was in the main the major issue that consumers wanted more information on.

From all credible scientific literature, natural cocoa powder can best be described as a functional food that is a medicinal food or nutraceutical. (Nutraceutical is a blend of the words nutrition and pharmaceutical).

While “nutraceutical" and "functional food" have been used for some time now, there is still no consensus on their meaning. Whereas some authorities consider the two as the same, others think otherwise.

The Wikipidea states that a functional food which is also called nutraceutical is any fresh or processed food claimed to have a health promoting and /or disease preventing property beyond the basic nutritional function of supplying nutrients.

The International Food Information Council document on functional foods also states that, they are foods or dietary components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition.

It goes further to state that they could be natural products that already have significant levels of some functional ingredients or special formulations that include functional ingredients.

The Food Directorate of Health, Canada, has however proposed the following definitions to try and differentiate between the two. It states that; a nutraceutical is a product isolated or purified from foods that is generally sold in medicinal forms not usually associated with food.

Where as a functional food is similar in appearance to, or may be a conventional food, which is consumed as part of a usual diet, and is demonstrated to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions.

Scientific literature has it that the concept of functional foods was born in Japan when in the 1980s; health authorities recognised that an improved quality of life must accompany increasing life expectancy for the expanding number of elderly people in the population if health care costs were to be controlled.

Thus this concept of foods was developed specifically to promote health or reduce the risk of disease.

Over the years, the market for functional foods has seen tremendous growth. Apart from Japan it is doing very well in the United States of America, Canada, China and Europe.

According to just-foods.com, an authentic source for business information on the World Wide Web, the global functional food market which reached 73.5 billion dollars in 2005 continues to grow.

This primarily is being fueled by the increasing relationship between diet and health, rapid advances in science and technology, increasing health care cost, changes in food laws affecting label and product claims, gradually aging population and rapid interest in attaining wellness through diet.

Many functional components continue to be discovered because of improved technology and new scientific findings.

The following nutrient families however have been distinguished as the main groups to which the ingredients that give foods their functional status belong. They are prebiotics, plant extracts, minerals and vitamins.

Compared to other countries, the functional food market in Ghana is not only small. It has also not been well studied thus there is very little scientific literature or market information on it.

Regular visits to some shops and supermarkets however show that many of them continue to give more shelf space to functional foods. Examples of such are high protein, fiber, energy, vitamins and minerals products.

Though there are many areas in the nutrition of functional foods that are still under investigation, the experts on functional foods are certain that they can be used to address medical and lifestyle issues.

The medical issues are controlling or reducing the risk of medical conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetics, heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and moderating or curing the effects of such illnesses if one is already suffering from any of them. Whilst the modern lifestyle concerns are appearance, performance and general well-being, even when one is experiencing stress like preparing for examinations, elections, funerals and marriage ceremonies.

Considering the fact that natural cocoa powder is rich in magnesium, flavanols, theobromine and dietary fibre, it can safely be concluded that cocoa powder is a very good natural functional food.

It should therefore be consumed regularly for its numerous benefits only. Natural cocoa powder is not a drug, neither should it be equated to the popular “tinkalo” sold in the buses as “cure for all ailments”. Thus it should not be substituted for prescribed drugs without your doctor's consent.

A very important caution; like all functional foods, cocoa powder does not contain appropriate levels of all the other nutrients that are needed for the desired functioning of the human being.

It is therefore recommended that you take cocoa powder, like all functional foods, as an important part of an overall healthful lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and physical activity.

Continue to enjoy your natural cocoa powder.

Article by Frank Asante

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