Chocolate is a superfood.


By chocolate, we are referring to cocoa (especially raw cacao). And no, this doesn’t mean you should dive into a bowl of chocolate ice cream or reach for every chocolate-flavoured dessert out there. But in moderation, chocolate is definitely a healthy addition to your diet. Its a superfood! Care to find out why?

Jam-Packed with Antioxidants
What are antioxidants? Think of them as secret agents working behind the scenes in your body. What antioxidants do is inhibit or prevent oxidation, a chemical process that produces damaging, pro-aging, inflammatory bad guys known as free radicals. Free radicals are formidable foes, capable of inflicting damage on both DNA and proteins within the body. This increases the risk for a number of diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, hypertension, and even cancer. Thankfully, we have antioxidants on our side. They’re the ones that help to ensure our survival, prevent us from premature aging, and thrive optimally. And outside of supplementation, the best way to obtain them is through food.

Enter cacao.
It’s actually one of the richest sources of antioxidants, such as polyphenols and flavanols. In fact, there’s research to suggest that cacao and its plethora of antioxidants “can protect nerves from injury and inflammation, protect the skin from oxidative damage from UV radiation in topical preparations, and have beneficial effects on satiety, cognitive function, and mood. ”The same antioxidants found in cacao have also been linked towards improving health in a number of ways, from improving cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood flow to preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Skin Health
Something you may not know about cacao is that it’s pretty darn good for your skin! In fact, eating cacao in the LONG term can contribute towards protecting it from sun damage. A 2006 study from the Journal of Nutrition found that the dietary flavanols (aka, antioxidants) provided UV protection endogenously (translation: from the inside!). Not only that, the study also found that cacao consumption increased blood flow to the skin, in turn increasing skin thickness and hydration. The older we get, the thinner and drier our skin becomes, which encourages the formation of wrinkles. Thankfully, with cacao, we can delay or lessen the degree this natural process occurs. Pretty neat, huh?

Gut Health
You’re not the only one who loves chocolate. In fact, so do the trillions of friendly bacteria down in your gut. These guys are massively important for your health- from achieving a healthy weight to maintaining a strong immune system. (You can learn even more about them here). If you’re looking to support or improve gut health, then keeping them well-fed is a must. And the optimal way is through diet. But they’re very particular when it comes to food. While they absolutely adore fiber , they’re also big fans of antioxidants. And what happens to be an antioxidant powerhouse? Cacao!
Research has shown that the fiber from cacao is a feast for our gut bugs, capable of significantly increasing specific populations of them- these include Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. When the bacteria break them down they produce short-chain fatty acids, which help to ward off unfriendly microbes and other opportunists that are on the prowl for taking over and ruining our gut.

Mental Health
There’s a reason why chocolate puts a smile on your face. Consuming cacao encourages the production of two neurotransmitters, phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide. Both of these have been linked to feelings of euphoria, as well as focus. So whether you’re looking to enhance your mood or lock into work, don’t discount cacao as a sort of “nutritional nootropic”.

Nutritional Boost
Lastly, cacao is a nutrient-packed food. Not just for its antioxidants, but for its micronutrients and fiber. First, let’s get the micronutrients- those very important vitamins and minerals- out of the way. Just one ounce of cacao provides you with…
19% DV of Iron, 16% DV of Magnesium, 25% DV of Copper, and 27% DV off Manganese. As for fiber, the same one-ounce serving of cacao offers three grams of fiber, which is 12% of the DV. (DV being short for Daily Value.)
As you can see, cacao is anything but empty calories.

How To Consume Cacao (Plus Recipes!)
With cacao, the source is very important. Be very careful with words here- there’s a difference between CACAO and COCOA. CACAO is what you need to look for; not cocoa. Unlike cacao, cocoa is very low on the nutrient scale. It’s undergone more processing, including being subjected to high heat temperatures which strip it of its vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Not only that, it usually comes packed with sugar, which will counter all, if any, of the health benefits it may still have. And don’t be fooled by the price. Just because cocoa is cheaper than cacao does not mean it’s superior. It’s actually the inferior of the two.

Cacao on the other hand retains all of its beneficial nutrients, is less processed, and raw. Yes, it’s typically more expensive, but you don’t need to use a lot of it for recipes. You can mix the powder into smoothies, yogurts, or baked goods. There’s also cacao nibs, which are like crunchy little bits of chocolate. Of the two, these might be more palatable, and are absolutely delicious when sprinkled into snacks and smoothies. A small handful of cacao nibs and raw nuts makes for a decadent treat!

If you’re going to be eating any dark chocolate, make sure that it contains at least 70% cacao, little to no sugars (ideally from natural sources like stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, or yacon syrup), and is organic.

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