Chocolate and cocoa are extensively used in many cultures. Although their composition has been studied, the functional significance of the components has not been as well defined. There are indications that cocoa constituents exert beneficial effects on human health, and therefore cocoa and chocolate may be considered functional foods. The use of functional foods to modulate human health has gained greater significance in recent years, and chocolate is widely consumed throughout society. We performed an extensive review of literature in both animal and human systems with respect to composition, bioavailability, comparative analysis with other food products and, especially, implications for cardiovascular disease and the human immune system. Although chocolate contains a high amount of saturated fats, the two major fatty acids are palmitic and stearic acid, which appear to have fewer implications for progression of coronary artery disease than other saturated fatty acids. In addition, the implications of flavonoids and other polyphenols in chocolate as antioxidants are significant, and their ability to modulate the immune system may also be applicable to infection and neoplasia. In this review, we attempt to place these issues in perspective and to provide the reader with an extensive summary of the literature on chocolate and cocoa and their potential mechanisms of action with respect to human health.
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