Oh thank God for chocolate or I should really say raw cacao! There about 40 different health benefits of chocolate. Number one in my book, is that it is nature’s most powerful antioxidant. It is much higher in antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, green tea, gogi berries and acai. Let me define some parts of the cacao tree for you. The cacao tree lives in the tropics and mainly in Central America. The tree bares pods that contain cacao seeds or nuts. The term nut, seeds, and even beans are used interchangeably. The nut can be ground into powder which is called cacao powder. If the nut is not roasted first then the cacao powder is raw and this is the most nutritious form of the nut that you can consume. The pod also contains fat which is known as cocoa butter. Chocolate is the candy that has been made from the nut. Cacao powder plus sugar equals dark chocolate. If you add milk to that, you get milk chocolate. If you take the cocoa butter plus sugar and milk, you get white chocolate. Dark chocolate is the most nutrient dense because it contains more cacao nuts.The Mayans back in 1400 BC brewed the cacao nuts in water and called it xocolatl. It was sacred and used as a health remedy, as a form of currency, and in spiritual rituals. It was the British that came up with the term cocoa, which is really slang for cacao.
Academic studies have confirmed that cacao helps improve cardiovascular health by increasing good cholesterol. In the FASEB Journal 2013;28 a study showed that dark chocolate prevents the white blood cells from adhering to the vessel walls thus preventing blood clots and artherlosclerosis. Cacao also was reported to improve the flexibility of the arteries. Other studies showed that it had an anti inflammatory effect to the cardiovascular system, decreased the risk of stroke, and increased nitric oxide levels which helped relax blood vessels thereby reducing blood pressure.
More studies found that the epicatechin which is a flavonoid in cacao improves cognitive function, preventing dementia and regulating mood. Other flavonoids help to reduce insulin resistance. Phenylethylamine is a constituent that encourages endorphin release so that you feel happy. Theobromine helps to harden tooth enamel. As a side note it is the stimulant, theobromine in chocolate and the not the caffeine that can harm pets. Horses, cats, dogs and birds can get sick or even die if they consume chocolate. Cacao contains vital minerals such as magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron and potassium.
If you want the greatest benefits of cacao, buy raw organic cacao powder. I like to put a tablespoon of raw cacao powder in unsweetened coconut milk with whey protein or I like a tablespoon in a smoothie with plain kefir and frozen strawberries. If you consume it as a candy the recommendation is to buy at least 65% cacao and eat only 1-2 oz of it or I like to just eat one square. Remember cacao does have caffeine, but not as much as a cup of coffee. Also, keep in mind that if you consume it in the form of chocolate, you are also eating sugar which is detrimental to your health. The amount of sugar and cacao in a bar are inversely proportional. For example in a 70% cacao bar the remaining 30% percent is sugar. The less the cacao content the greater the sugar and vise versa.