Q. I am unable to eat chocolate or drink coffee or tea with caffeine, so I use carob and chicory as substitutes. Do these substitute foods have any health benefits?
A. Diane McKay, PhD, a scientist in Tufts’ HNRCA Antioxidant Nutrition Laboratory, answers: “Since carob and chicory are plant-based, they both contribute to our daily intake of phytochemicals. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is one of the richest dietary sources of caffeic acid (not to be confused with caffeine), while carob (Ceratonia siliqua) is high in tannins, as well as the minerals calcium and potassium.
“In one study, consuming a large cup of chicory-root ‘coffee’ for one week was shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic effects in healthy adults, suggesting a potential cardiovascular benefit. Most studies on chicory have focused on chicory-root extract, which is considered to be a prebiotic, i.e., a compound that supports healthy gut bacteria.
“In traditional medicine, a syrup made of carob pods is used to treat a cough or sore throat. In experimental studies, carob-bean juice has been shown to help alleviate acute diarrhea in children. However, it is unclear whether processed carob flour, or the candies made from carob flour, have the same effects. Keep in mind that while carob contains no caffeine, products made with it can be as high in sugar, fat and calories as chocolate. As with everything, moderation is key.”