The Secret Behind The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Cacao Beans

The Secret Behind The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Botanical name: Theobroma cacao

The Secret Behind The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Who doesn’t know cacao beans? They are part of our favorite foods, even some of our favorite beers! But they should be an essential part of your diet too. Get ready to discover some of the health benefits that cacao beans can bring to your life!

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate by Everjean (CC BY SA)

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate by Everjean (CC BY SA)

What Exactly Are Cacao Beans?

Cacao beans, also known as cocoa and cacao, are the dried and fermented seed of the cocoa tree or Theobroma cacao. As most people know, these beans are the basis of chocolate and other foods such as Mexican mole.

The cacao tree is found in the Americas and originated in Central America and Mexico. More than 5,000 years ago cacao beans were consumed by pre-Columbian civilizations, including the Mayans and Olmeca. The tree also grows in the Andes region in the Amazon and Orinoco of South America, such as Colombia and Venezuela.

Cacao trees grow in a very limited area, only 20° to the north and south of the Equator, and around 70 percent of the entire world crop is found in West Africa.

What Is In Cacao Beans?

It is common knowledge that cacao beans are full of antioxidants, such as procyanidins and flavanoids. They also contain a high level of flavonoids, especially epicatechin.

Cocoa also contains theobromine and caffeine, specifically between 0.1 and 0.7 percent of the latter. These beans are also high in protein, calcium, carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, copper, iron, and fatty acids.

How Can Cocoa Help My Brain?

If you have heard that eating dark chocolate can be good for you, it’s true. Cocoa beans are an excellent source of healthy nutrients for your brain. Here are some of the benefits of cocoa on your cognitive health:

  • Neuroprotection: cocoa beans are one of the highest sources of antioxidants with 621, compared to other sources, like blueberries with 32 antioxidants, and wild blueberries with 61. It is these nutrients that fight off free radicals, which attack our brains. Consuming these beans can help prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Depression: cocoa is considered a natural anti-depressant because it contains dopamine, phenylethylamine (PEA), and serotonin. These components promote positive mental health and especially a better mood.

Aside from these, cocoa beans also have monoamine oxidase inhibitors and amino acid tryptophan. Monoamine oxidase (MOA) inhibitors keep dopamine and serotonin in the bloodstream for a longer time, which means they can ease depressive feelings and promote feelings of well-being.

On the other hand, tryptophan is important in the production of serotonin in our bodies.

  • Anxiety: the consumption of cocoa beans promotes a better state of mind and allows us to relax. While anxiety stems from feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to focus, cocoa beans are great for slowing down our thoughts.
  • Focus: in the same way that cocoa slows down out thoughts, they also allow you to focus more and stay alert.
  • Energy: taking a cup of cocoa can provide the same energy as a cup of coffee, but since it has fewer stimulants than coffee beans, there will not be a crash afterward.
  • Memory: the epicatechin in cocoa beans has been proven to enhance memory. Eating cocoa beans on a daily basis can help our brain retain information longer and prevent age-related memory loss.

And What About Cocoa and My Health?

It’s also true that eating cocoa can, not only help your brain, but also your general health. If you are about ready to start eating cocoa, check these health benefits first:

  • Cardiovascular Health: flavanols are antioxidants that protect our hearts. Consuming raw cacao can protect your body against cardiovascular disease, reduce the risk of stroke, and even improve blood circulation.

Cacao beans contain over 700 compounds and the antioxidants known as polyphenols that reduce “bad cholesterol,” which in turn reduces hardening of the arteries.

  • Blood Pressure: in recent studies it has been proven that the daily consumption of cacao can reduce blood pressure significantly.
  • Pain: the substance known as epicatechin in cocoa beans can act as a anesthetic, which can help reduce pain after surgeries or injuries.
  • Weight Loss: the antioxidant properties of cacao beans can also reduce insulin resistance and sensitivity, especially in those with impaired glucose tolerance.

The polyphenols in cocoa work towards reducing this Insulin Resistance Syndrome, which in turn supports weight loss efforts.

  • Skin Health: eating cacao with at least 326mgs of flavonals results in better skin texture, improved microcirculation, increased oxygen saturation, and improved skin hydration.

Also consuming cacao protects your skin against harmful UV rays that can result in cancer.

  • Digestion: the amount of fiber in cocoa beans promotes a healthy digestion and consistent bowel movements.
  • Teeth Health: it has recently been discovered that consuming cocoa is more effective than fluoride in preventing cavities. The crystalline extract helps harden teeth enamel.

How Do I Take Cacao Beans?

Consuming cocoa beans in raw can be hard to do, but you can find them at health stores. However, many find it better to eat dark chocolate instead because it has a reduced bitter taste. Make sure you consume dark chocolate with over 70 percent cacao.

You can also consume cacao powder instead, which is easy to consume and mixes well with many things. Add it to your morning smoothie, or your cereal. If you buy cacao nibs, you can also add them to almost anything, from salads to oatmeal, to desserts.

Lastly, you can also consume cacao butter, which is great on the skin and body. If you wanted, you could melt it and consume it as a liquid or food additive.

Eat More Chocolate

Whoever said chocolate was bad for you was wrong. Excessive amounts of chocolate aren’t good, especially if it’s processed and full of added sugars. Always aim to consume real cocoa or above 70 percent cocoa dark chocolate. The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

As with everything, start adding cocoa beans to your diet slowly and watch out for side effects. Enjoy more chocolate in your life and let us know what you think!

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