Cacao, the key chocolate ingredient, is probably human’s all time favorite superfood and no one has ever had a problem working it into their diet. An antioxidant rich, bitter sweet treat for the body and the soul.
The ancient Aztecs considered cacahuatl, or as we call it today, chocolate to be the food of the gods. They used it as a ceremonial offering, medicine and even currency.
Five hundred years later, chocolate is still eaten at celebration and used as an alternative medicine for body and mind.
The average person eats around 12 pounds of chocolate a year, but are they eating the healthy kind?
The key component weather a chocolate is healthy or not is cacao, the plant of which chocolate is made from.
Cacao is one of the few plants that isn’t cultivated outside of its native, humid, equatorial climate. It was eaten by the Aztecs and the Mayas long before Belgium and Swiss became famous for their chocolate.
While cacao in its raw form is great for us, not all chocolate is a superfood. Most chocolate today is junk food.
Milk chocolate is a highly processed, sugar packed, version of the original product. Black chocolate is very low on cacao, and white chocolate has no cacao whatsoever.
Your chocolate needs to be at least 50% cacao to be considered dark and healthy.
Why is Cacao a Superfood?
Cacao is surprisingly high in fiber, which we know is great for digestive health. It is packed with compounds such as tryptophan, which is proven to elevate mood and promote a sense of well being.
The bioactive compounds in cacao could also be good for your skin.
The antioxidant flavonol was found to preserve the skin from any UV damge and improve blood flow to the skin, which will develop density and hydration.
And it doesn’t end there. Cacao has been found to significantly improve cognitive and verbal function in elderly patients with mental deterioration.
Another finding that backs cacao’s brain benefits is a study on healthy volunteers that consumed high-flavanol raw cacao for 5 days and found to have a better blood flow to the brain.
Most importantly, cacao is a great source of all the essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium, which a lot of people are lacking nowadays.
How does something as common as cacao support our immune system? It increases the growth of T-cells. In turn, this makes your immune system work properly.
T-cells are a special group of white blood cells that help your immune system fight off bacteria and flu-viruses.
Extra T-cells translates into a faster and more efficient response time when one’s body senses something is wrong.
Cacao is really good for soothing sore throat and coughing associated with some flu symptoms.
Especially hot chocolate, in which the cocoa and the fat coats the throat, helping to soothe the itching and scratching.
A chemical compound found in cacao called theobromine helps suppress the cough. That’s why theobromine is often found in cough medicine.
Cacao’s Antioxidant Benefits
Cacao is packed with antioxidants, which helps prevent everything from wrinkles to cancer.
A 2010 study published in Nutritional Journal found that the antioxidants in chocolate also help reduce fatigue. The antioxidant that cacao is richest in, is called flavonol.
Flavonol is a type of flavonoid and is one of those antioxidants that may protect us from free radicals caused by aging and toxins.
Free radicals are unpaired electrons formed by cellular processes in the body. If left unbalanced, these free radicals can cause some serious damage to our health.
Antioxidants are primarily known for neutralizing free radicals, hence stopping them before causing damage.
Flavonol also helps our blood flow smoother by reducing clotting and improving arterial function.
Studies published by the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition and the European Heart Journal found that people who consume small amounts of cacao-rich chocolate on a regular basis were 39% less likely to have strokes and heart attacks than those who didn’t.
Chocolate is a high caloric food, so moderation is key.
Image credit: Giulian Frisoni