The ‘Bittersweet’ Antioxidant Power Of Raw Cacao

Here are some things you may have heard about chocolate. Chocolate makes you fat. Chocolate causes acne. Chocolate spikes blood sugar. Chocolate is addictive. Chocolate is healthy; it contains milk. Chocolate is bad for you; it contains sugar and fat.

Well, some of these are true and some are not. The main thing with chocolate is to enjoy the right kind to reap the positive benefits.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Dozens and dozens of studies have touted the many health benefits of chocolate. An Internet search pulls up research in prestigious journal like the Archives of Internal Medicine, Nutrition & Metabolism, Neurology and others. These experiments highlight benefits for stroke prevention, post-stroke recovery, cardiovascular health, cholesterol improvement, immune regulation and mood enhancement. But what do these studies really mean? Can you really just safely eat loads of chocolate? And which chocolate is the best for health? Let’s look more closely.

In 2008, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ran a study concluding: “The acute ingestion of both solid dark chocolate and liquid cocoa improved endothelial function and lowered blood pressure in overweight adults. Sugar content may attenuate these effects, and sugar-free preparations may augment them.”

The journal Neurology published the findings of a Swedish study on the cardiovascular effects of chocolate on men. Specifically, researchers at the Karolinka Institute in Stockholm spent a decade following some 37,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79. They found that those men who consumed roughly 2.2 ounces of chocolate per week showed a 17 percent lower risk of stroke over those 10 years. This 2.2-ounce consumption was the high end of the spectrum. Researchers then combined this data with other studies and conducted a meta-analysis. That demonstrated that both men and women who ate the most chocolate during the study periods reduced their risk of stroke by 19 percent compared to those who consumed the least amounts of chocolate.

All Hail Cacao

What the Swedish study and other research into the health benefits of chocolate find is that the wonderful healing power of chocolate is actually contained in the cacao, or cocoa, component of this food. Though both terms are interchangeable, cacao generally refers to the raw bean from which chocolate powder, or cocoa, is derived. When mixed with other ingredients, it becomes chocolate.

This is important: Studies indicate that the higher the cacao percentage contained within a given piece or bar of chocolate, the greater its healing benefits. For certain, the milk version of chocolate (i.e., milk chocolate) is less healthful. In fact, the milk in conventional chocolate is a source of fat and cholesterol and may block the beneficial actions of the food’s flavonoids (healthy phytonutrients).

It’s In The Flavanoids

Raw cacao, the most natural state of “chocolate,” is chock-full of flavonoids. Cooking and alkalizing processes used in the chocolate-manufacturing process reduce the effects of flavonoids and can blunt their antioxidant ability to help protect cells from oxidative damage.

As such, consuming raw cacao or chocolate that is more than 50 percent cacao (dark) chocolate is your best bet for deriving health benefits.

Flavonoids known as epicatechin are found in high concentration in raw cacao. Dark chocolate is the second richest source of this nutrient, yet milk chocolate contains only a small amount. This antioxidant is correlated with cacao’s ability to reduce blood pressure, thin blood, prevent blood clotting, improve arterial function, mimic insulin actions, improve mood and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. All of these characteristics help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Best Choices

In light of the studies on chocolate, it is clear that cacao significantly improves health and may prevent chronic problems. Just make sure you stick to raw cacao or dark chocolate.

While we all know that eating too much chocolate can add to a weight problem (especially if you indulge in confections infused with sugar and milk), moderation and eating the proper type of chocolate are key.

I like raw cacao, so I buy it in bulk and add it to warmed almond milk and stevia to make hot cocoa. I also purchase several different bars of chocolate online from GnosisChocolate.com. All of the bars, which are certified USDA Organic, contain raw cacao. Many of them also contain chaga, ginger and other healthy herbs and ingredients. The JEM brand of chocolate is another favorite. JEM also has many flavors and identifies bars by their cacao percentage — the higher the percentage, the greater the health effects.

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Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.