Get cosy with a cup of cacao. The health benefits of this superfood will make you love it even more.

It’s no secret: chocolate is one of the world’s favourite “guilty” sweet treats and much to our delight, there has been a lot of buzz over the past couple of years touting the antioxidant benefits of chocolate. That’s because cacao, the raw form of cocoa, is a rich source of polyphenols, flavanols and other powerful antioxidants – nutrients that play an important role in terms of health.

Raw cacao, in the form of cold-pressed powder or bite sized nibs, is starting to turn up on health food shop and supermarket shelves. When blended into smoothies or hot milk, it is a fantastic way of getting the benefits without the added kilojoules found in a bar of chocolate.

History and discovery of cacao


Raw cacao and cacao-based products have been consumed across the world for centuries.

According to research done by the Alpine Foundation for Life Sciences in Switzerland, the indigenous people of Mesoamerica were already using cacao before 1000 BC. The Aztecs in particular used to drink liquid cacao, or what they called “chocolate”, for its perceived ability to build resistance and fight fatigue.

A positive effect was also seen among the Kuna Indians, a native tribe living off the coast of Panama, who would consume relatively big quantities of cacao on a daily basis. Studies show that cacao consumption was effective in protecting the Kuna people from developing high blood pressure, arterial hypertension and kidney problems.

Cacao later also became popular in Europe in the 16th century, where it was later employes as a food, but also used for medicinal purposes.

According to researchers from the Universiti Putra in Malaysia, it was documented that cacao and chocolate had over 100 medicinal uses, some of which included:

• Aiding digestion

• Promoting fertility

• Increasing mental performance

• Fighting symptoms of depression


Today, cacao is still regarded as an exceptionally healthy food, and research is ongoing to confirm the extent of these purported benefits.

Cocoa beans are a rich source of polyphenols, contributing about 10% of the dry weight of the whole bean. And its delicious derivative, chocolate (particularly raw dark chocolate), is considered one of the major contributors of antioxidants in our diets (that’s after fruit and vegetables), according to Manuel Rusconi and co-workers from the Alpine Foundation for Life Sciences in Switzerland.

Health benefits of cacao


It may seem too good to be true, but cacao and cacao-rich products such as raw chocolate are not only tasty, but surprisingly beneficial to your health. According to a review article by Karen A. Cooper and colleagues, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, cacao can improve antioxidant status, reduce century, where it was not only enjoyed as a food, inflammation, and lower your risk for heart disease.

Other research has also found that cacao, because of its high magnesium content, has a positive effect on blood pressure, insulin resistance and platelet function, note researchers from the Universiti Putra in Malaysia. Magnesium intake has also been associated with a lowered risk for the metabolic syndrome. A person who has metabolic syndrome is twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes.

Cacao is especially protective to cardiovascular health, thanks to its high amount of polyphenols – a naturally occurring antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables.

How to include cacao in your diet


Start experimenting with raw cacao powder today:

• Add it to hot milk to make delicious hot chocolate.

• Add a few spoonfuls to smoothies for a lovely chocolate flavour.

• Enjoy cacao powder sprinkled over banana slices (with peanut butter on low-GI toast, this is a treat!).


References:
- Rusconi M, Conti A. 2009. Theobroma cacao L., the Food of the Gods: A scientific approach beyond myths and claims. Pharmalogical Research. [cited 2014 Sept 16]; 61:5-13. Available from: http://worldcocoafoundation.org/wp-content/files_mf/rusconi2010.pdf
- Jalil AMM, Ismail A. 2008. Polyphenols in cocoa and cocoa products: is there a link between antioxidant properties and health? Molecules. [cited 2014 Sept 16]; 13(9), 2190-2219. Available from: http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/13/9/2190
- Cooper KA, Donovan JL, Waterhouse AL, Williamson G. 2008. Cocoa and health: a decade of research. British Journal of Nutrition. [cited 2014 Sept 16];99(01), 1-11. Available from: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1590848&fileId=S0007114507795296
- Corti R, Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Lüscher TF. 2009. Cocoa and cardiovascular health. Circulation. [cited 2014 Sept 16]; 119:1433–1441. Available from: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/119/10/1433.full.pdf+html

Image via Thinkstock.




This post is sponsored by Bioglan Superfoods

Bioglan Superfoods Cacao Powder is certified organic, and deliciously rich with no bitter after taste. Raw cacao is interchangeable with cocoa powder in baking, added to smoothies and shakes, or sprinkled over breakfast cereal. Or try one of these delicious Bioglan Superfoods Recipes:

>> Raw Coconut Rough

>> Choc Protein Balls

>> Chocolate Beetroot Brownie


 The complete range of Bioglan Superfoods is available at the Health365 Shop.