When consumed in its purest form, chocolate made with unprocessed cacao beans is an incredible source of healthful fats. Cocoa powder, derived from cacao beans, is very nutritious and may offer several health benefits.
Another cacao benefit is that cacao is naturally low in sugar. Like other plant foods, raw cacao is extremely high in calcium (even higher than cow’s milk, at an impressive 160mg per 100g, as opposed to only 125mg per 100ml).
A daily dose of raw, organic cacao has the potential to make a deep impact on our overall health. Rich in dietary fibre and magnesium, eating raw cacao regularly can keep you from becoming constipated, while improving overall digestive health.
Raw organic cacao may reduce LDL, or bad cholesterol, and increase HDL, or good cholesterol, because of the high number of antioxidants found in cacao, which protect your lipoproteins from being oxidized or reacted by free radicals. Cacao contains higher amounts of antioxidants than green tea, red wine, blueberries, and goji berries. Antioxidants are critical for the absorption of the free radicals contained within toxins, and raw cacao is rich in these.
According to Bansari Acharya, MA, R.D.N., registered dietitian nutritionist with Food Love, antioxidants from cacao may decrease the production of pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines, which reduces the risk of inflammation in the first place. As a result, since cacaos antioxidants combat oxidative stress, they may also help lower inflammation. According to a 2017 study mentioned earlier, the antioxidants found in cacao beans, and therefore in chocolate, may lower the incidence of type-2 diabetes.
Chocolates that contain more cacaos are higher in antioxidants and lower in sugar. In this case, though, the enticing flavour is misleading: Dark chocolate with 80 per cent cacao or higher is packed with nutrients that may boost your body’s defences and have positive effects on your overall health. Dark chocolate with a higher percentage of cacao solids provides antioxidants, which mobilize stem cells, help with blood sugar management, and lower inflammation, all contributing to decreased diabetes risk.
Many controlled studies suggest that cacao and dark chocolate may improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, although the effects are typically small. Studies found that dark chocolate and koko products that contain at least 200 mg of cacao flavanols may improve the elastic qualities of blood vessels, which may aid in blood flow. The cacao flavanols found in dark chocolate may increase the availability of oxygen and nutrients for the vessels found in your eyes, thereby strengthening your eyesight health.
Dark chocolate may boost blood flow in the brain, thanks to its significant flavanol content, which can help counteract age-related weakening of memory. Dark chocolate, in small amounts, can benefit women who are pregnant, since it helps to prevent conditions such as pre-eclampsia, decreases the stress on muscles, and contributes to the sense of relaxation, thus increasing the body’s overall immunity. The presence of 65% polyphenol-rich cacao in dark chocolate, as well as other antioxidants such as catechins and polyphenols, can help lower blood pressure and risk for heart disease.
Cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods, and it is the high cacao content of dark chocolate that makes it an excellent antioxidant. Raw Cacao Powder (summing up to Dark Chocolate) is at the top of the list of the highest antioxidant-rich foods. One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had higher antioxidant activity, polyphenols, and flavanols compared to every other tested fruit, including blueberries and acai berries.
The antioxidants and flavanols in ordinary cocoa powder and chocolate are chemically treated and roasted, destroying a substantial amount of the antioxidants and flavanols (which keep you young and healthy). Cocoa beans are extensively processed before being turned into chocolate, removing almost all of the beneficial flavanols discussed earlier. While cacao beans in their natural state contain high amounts of antioxidant compounds, the processes involved in turning beans into bars decrease cacaos flavanol content, which lowers cacaos’ antioxidant properties.
Research also suggests that adding flavanols to your diet through enjoying cacao products may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Epidemiologists have long established the link between eating foods that contain flavanols–a powerful antioxidant found in dark chocolate–and having a lower death rate from cardiovascular disease.
Regular consumption of cacao flavanols — even in dosages as small as 80 milligrams per day — enhances blood vessels’ capacity for dilation, or expansion, helping the body regulate blood pressure and blood flow to organs. One study in healthy volunteers showed that eating cocoa with a high amount of flavanols for five days improved blood flow to the brain. Sun protection — even though I thought improvement was impossible, researchers in London found that eating high-flavanol chocolate — that is, dark chocolate with high percentages of cacao — led to the study participants being able to spend twice as much time in the sun before their skin turned red than they did at the beginning of the study.
The cacao plants chocolate is derived from also contain a compound called theobromine, which, according to Toby Amidor, R.D., a cookbook author and Nutrition Expert on The Food Network, may help lower inflammation and possibly lower blood pressure. Research suggests cacao can aid weight loss by improving mitochondrial biogenesis and increasing glucose consumption in muscles. ScienceDaily also says drinking cacao may help combat cancer, heart disease, and aging due to its antioxidant-boosting effects.
While more research is needed to fully investigate dark chocolate’s potential for fighting cancer, the American Cancer Society suggests consuming a small amount of dark chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa could provide some benefits. In addition to possible health benefits from cacao powder, the UMHS says cacao can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood clot risks, improve blood flow to the arteries, lower blood pressure, improve cognitive function, and provide important minerals like calcium and potassium. Next time you are in the mood for a little chocolate, maybe opt for the higher-percentage-dark varieties or organic cacao powder to reap all of the possible health benefits.