Why we love cacao

In recent years cacao has been labelled among many to be a superfood. So what does it mean to be a superfood? Superfood is a term coined to describe a whole food whereby the benefits of eating it go far beyond the calorie content. Another name for this is nutrient density. We are looking for maximum nutritional value and minimal calorie content. 

Cacao is the rawest form of chocolate. Cacao powder is made by cold pressing the cacao beans. This means the enzymes, and other nutritional content of the beans are not destroyed in the process. Cocoa is roasted cacao beans. As the beans become more processed and refined they lose more nutritional value until they have a high calorie content and negligible nutritional content. Cocoa is used to make chocolate and the varying amounts of it in the chocolate contribute to its nutritional content. 

Cacao's attributes

Antioxidant

Cacao has a higher antioxidant content than green tea, blueberries and acai berries. The cacao phenolics responsible for the antioxidant content work as free radical scavengers and to prevent the oxidation of white bloods cells. This immune modulation contributes to the prevention of inflammation. It also inhibits the work of free radicals which can be responsible for the release of toxic chemicals throughout our body.

Prevention of coronary disease and stroke. 

The flavonols present in cacao increase flow mediated vascular dilation. This can have positive effects on the prevention of atherosclerosis and reduce high blood pressure. It is also of benefit in lowering LDL cholesterol and preventing its oxidation. These beneficial actions can be seen throughout the body, organs, heart and brain. 

Glucose homeostasis

The polyphenol content of cacao has a positive effect on glucose homeostasis by decreasing insulin resistance, increasing insulin sensitivity and improving acute insulin secretion. It also improves the atherosclerotic cholesterol profile in diabetics by increasing HDL cholesterol and improving the balance of cholesterol and HDL cholesterol without affecting weight, glycemic control, inflammation or insulin resistance.

Feeling positive

Cacao contains a few chemicals involved in biochemical pathways responsible for helping us feel good.

  • Phenylethylamine - contributes to feelings of euphoria, improving mood and reducing appetite
  • Anandamide - Contributes to feelings of bliss. Anandamide is released when we feel good. 
  • Seratonin - Contributes to feelings of satiety and is responsible for maintaining mood balance. Deficiency leads to depression.
  • Dopamine - responsible for feelings of reward and satisfaction
  • Theobromine - bronchidilator and vasodilator. Mild stimulant, less so than caffeine. 

Other good stuff

Raw cacao is rich in minerals such as magnesium and sulphur. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, electrolyte and contributes to muscle metabolism. Sulfur aids in strong nail, shiny hair and a healthy liver and pancreas. It also contains calcium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese and potassium, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 and E and oleic acid, an essential fat for heart health. 

When too much of a good thing is a bad thing

Eating chocolate everyday isn't going to cure you of heart disease, diabetes and prevent stroke. However 1 - 2 tablespoons of cacao powder/day in combination with a sensible diet and lifestyle program, can decrease your risk factors of developing these diseases, improve blood flow to organs and the brain, reduce insulin resistance, prevent oxidative stress on cells throughout the body, increase your feeling of positivity and supplement some important minerals to your body.

1 tablespoon of cacao is equivalent to 308 calories or 3 squares of chocolate. Ensure to stay within 3 tablespoons a day.