While you may have thought you needed a good excuse to enjoy a piece of dark chocolate, the truth is the delightful and ancient superfood ingredient found in high-quality dark chocolate, known as cacao, has more to offer your health than you may realize.
In ancient texts, cacao was described as a sacred superfood, often referred to as food of the gods. The cacao bean and its consumption date back thousands of years, where it was used as a powerful and healing food, including use in ancient ritual and ceremony.
Today, science and research has shown cacao to have many well-proven benefits for your body, mind, and soul. It is a delicious and beneficial superfood to include in your day-to-day life.
Consider these six health benefits of this sacred food.
- Antioxidant Protection
Antioxidants are nutrients (found in many foods) that stop or slow the damage to your cells, by limiting the oxidation process in your cells and protecting your body (and cells) from free radical damage. Antioxidants are primarily found in plant-based foods and when found in high amounts, these foods are frequently known as superfoods (or super fruits).
In a comparative study (performed with dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cacao content) cacao holds significantly greater oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value (a scale used to measure the antioxidant potency of food) than other known plant based antioxidant rich sources.
- Improved Brain Health
Reaching for a piece of dark chocolate after a long stressful day, a challenging time in your life, or simply to help you get better focused improves brain chemistry. Research has found that not only can cacao improve cognitive function and mood, but it is also may help to reduce stress, decrease brain inflammation, and improve memory. While this information is helpful, further research is in progress to learn the cause-and-effect brain-behavior relationship with cacao at higher concentrations.
- Immune Boosting
You now know that cacao is extremely high in antioxidants, but it affects your immune system in other ways as well. Studies suggests that eating cacao increases T-cells—the immune markers in your blood. Dark chocolate (cacao) directly boosts the immune system through both systemic anti-inflammatory qualities, as well as intestinal anti-inflammatory qualities and gut friendly bacteria-boosting effects.
- Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Research shows that cacao may reduce insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance, and in turn reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Notably, the high-flavanol—a natural compound found in many plants—content of cacao is shown to lower insulin resistance when used regularly over a few consecutive weeks. The flavanols have been shown to both reduce oxidative stress and alter glucose metabolism.
5. They are a great source of Magnesium, Copper, Potassium, Iron, Zinc, and Manganese
1 ounce of cacao nibs provides about 80 milligrams of magnesium, a vital micronutrient which helps keep your stress hormones under control, elevates your mood, removes heavy metals from your body, fights fatigue, prevents heart disease and more. Copper protects your heart, is vital to normal metabolic function, boosts your immunity, maintains collagen, helps absorption of iron and keeps bones strong. Iron fights deficiency symptoms such as chronic fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath or lightheadedness. Poor immunity, poor skin, allergies, or trouble sleeping are just some of the signs of zinc deficiency, while digestive disorders, risk of cardiovascular disease, and even cancer are associated with low potassium levels. Cacao is a significant source for all of the above micronutrients.
- Nature’s Mood Booster & Aphrodisiac
Chocolate is well known for its aphrodisiac and mood boosting effects. The famous Aztec ruler Montezuma is said to be one of the first to tap into the aphrodisiac power of cacao. He was known to enjoy cacao as a beverage spiced with chili peppers, vanilla, or allspice and was described as the delight of the royal court.
One study describes dark chocolate as the “queen of natural aphrodisiacs,” containing anandamide, a feel-good chemical that relaxes the body, and PEA (phenylethylamine), which induces the release of dopamine into the brain’s pleasure centers. Pure chocolate is also a potent source of arginine, an amino acid that elevates sexual stimulation in men and women. Pure dark chocolate also contains the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known for the sense of well-being and relaxation it creates.
How to Enjoy Cacao
Raw cacao nibs, straight from the bitter cacao bean, are a great addition to a smoothie, a dessert, or even to mix into your trail mix.
Take a cue from the Aztecs, raw cacao powder makes for a great hot chocolate substitute mixed with a little bit of raw honey or coconut sugar and spices, and can add chocolate flavor to any dessert. Cacao mixes well with mushroom elixirs like cordyceps for an energy boosting drink with added support for the adrenals. Note that cow’s milk interferes with the absorption of cacao’s potent antioxidants, so be sure to substitute a non-dairy option to gain the highest benefits.
A square of high-quality dark chocolate (with a high cacao content and low sugar content) is an easy treat with many benefits.
Choose organic and fair trade whenever possible.
Cacao has proven its merit as a superfood (and super fruit). With a nutrient profile that is astonishing, a delicious flavor that many savor, and the seemingly endless and tangible scientific health benefits that span brain health, heart health, immunity, blood sugar, and beyond. Treat yourself—body, mind, and soul—to some high-quality cacao or dark chocolate and see for yourself!
*The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Freya Farley is Evergreen’s Executive Director and an Acupuncturist at the Wellness Center at Evergreen where her practice focuses on Women’s Health and Fertility. Along with acupuncture, and herbal medicine, Freya practices a food-as-medicine approach, helping her clients utilize the healing powers of food to nourish their bodies mind and spirits. She offers private consultations & treatments as well as a weekly Community Acupuncture Clinic. The presence of yoga throughout Freya’s life has influenced and informed her ongoing path of health and wellness and she offers Open Studio morning yoga sessions to join in her practice.