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Raw & Organic
Cacao, also known as “Food of the Gods,” is an ancient superfood that has been revered for centuries by the Aztec and Maya cultures. Cacao is incredibly nutritious – it is one of the world’s most potent sources of antioxidants.
These are only a few of the reasons why we’ve chosen to add this highly beneficial ingredient to our most popular Keto Breakfast Smoothie as part of the 21-Day Cleanse and 30-Day Maintain via the 90-Day Balance program!
Learn about Cacao & Cocoa
Cacao vs Cocoa
Cacao and cocoa can easily be confused when it comes to recipes. With similar origins and a very similar spelling, it can be difficult to know which is which. Even though these ingredients can be used interchangeably in some recipes, they are not the same product. They have different production methods, tastes and nutritional values.
There have been many studies that have promoted the health benefits of eating chocolate. People have been clamoring about the wonderful nutrition that chocolate provides. This sends many people to the store searching for their favorite chocolate bar for what they think is a “healthy” indulgence. While chocolate does have nutritional properties these studies are about the raw forms of the cacao plant, not the heavily processed form that comes in a chocolate bar. Below we’ll review the true differences between Cacao and Cocoa.
Chocolate ingredients or products come from the same cacao bean. What is done with the bean is what changes the ingredients and their nutritional values. These beans are picked from a cacao plant which is an evergreen tree. These trees are found in areas of West Africa and South America. Cacao beans grow in large bunches or pods, but they are not held in the leaves of the trees. Instead, they hang from the trunks.
Many find the appearance of the cacao pod surprising. There are few people that realize that their favorite chocolate bar once hung from a tree. These pods are very large and contain many beans. The beans are encased in a fatty pulp that can vary in color but is commonly white. The beans are a purple-brown color, but often lose their purple hue after being processed.
Down to the Details
Cacao and cocoa both come from the cacao plant, but that is where their similarities stop. Cacao is the raw, untouched state of the cacao plant. It is kept in its most natural form to preserve more taste and nutrients. Even though there is little processing that is done to cacao, it does come in a variety of forms to use with different recipes.
Cacao beans are whole, unprocessed beans removed from the pod and with the surrounding fruit stripped off. Cacao nibs are simply broken up pieces of cacao beans. Cacao powder is finely ground beans with the oil/fat removed.
This oil is what we call Cacao butter.Finally, cacao paste is created by slowly grinding nibs into a paste and letting form into chunks. All these minimally processed forms of Cacao remain as close to their natural state as possible, are full of nutrients and have a distinct bitter flavor.
It’s not until you begin using high heat and adding sugar, oils or milk fats that you arrive at a Cocoa product.
Cocoa is most typically found in powder form. Many people enjoy cocoa when mixed in with a beverage. To create cocoa high heat is used with the raw cacao plants, most often along with sugar. This level of heat changes the nutritional value that the plant holds and greatly decreases its benefits.
Many manufacturers try to market the benefits of cocoa powders. They advertise the benefits without emphasizing the added ingredients in the product, such as oils, sugars, or milk fat.
Raw, pure cacao is always more nutritionally beneficial than cocoa.
In either form, there are nutritional agents that both products carry however cacao is much higher in antioxidants and is a great source of fiber. Cacao also offers a good level of protein. While there are nutritional benefits of the cocoa products, it is best to reach for cacao if looking for a nutritional boost.
Severe Health Problems
Cacao cannot cure or treat severe health problems, but some of the nutrients in the raw form are beneficial to the body. In its raw form, the plant has a lot of magnesium. A person should get a good amount of magnesium to have less of a risk of diabetes, help maintain a healthy blood pressure, have stronger bones, have a lessened risk of having cardiovascular problems, and maintain nervous system activity that is healthy.
There are so many health problems that can be deterred, with the help of other factors, by having enough magnesium in the body. While it will not reverse the effects of other health factors cacao can help provide the body with more magnesium.
Inflammation and Heart Problems
There is a class of antioxidants that are called flavonoids. These antioxidants help to reduce inflammation throughout the body. The presence of flavonoids in the body has shown to help maintain levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol which can aid in better cardiovascular health. Both cacao and cocoa have flavonoids that can help in these areas.
Meet Recommended Daily Values
There are nutrients in cacao and cocoa that are needed in our daily lives. Some of these are harder to meet without watching the diet closely. Iron is one dietary need that many people fall short on. Cacao offers a low value of iron which helps move oxygen into the body’s tissue.
Chocolate for a Leaner, Longer Life
A little bit of chocolate has been linked to noteworthy health gains.
Chocolate offers unique slimming and longevity benefits, as well as antioxidants that can help prevent chronic disease—but it’s important to eat the “good” type and only in ideal amounts.
Studies point out that chocolate may not only make life sweet, but also help lengthen it. Chocolate isn’t a recent invention; its health benefits date back to ancient times, when the Aztecs made a chocolate drink from the cacao bean.
The antioxidant content of chocolate may explain some of its health-boosting potential. Phenols in cacao can inhibit free radicals and help build immunity. From having a potentially longer life to attaining a leaner body, chocolate may be both a smart and delicious natural intervention.
Chocolate as an Anti-Obesity Treat
The six-month randomized trial divided the subjects into two: the intervention group, which received 10 grams (g) of 99 percent cocoa chocolate daily as part of their habitual diet, and the control group, which didn’t receive any cocoa. The quantity of chocolate received by the first group included 65.4 milligrams (mg) of polyphenols.
Measuring factors involving body composition, the cocoa was linked to a favorable decrease in the intervention group when it came to body fat mass and body fat percentage (as analyzed in the trunk, arms, and legs), with an insignificant reduction in body mass index.
The researchers wrote, “Daily addition of 10 g of cocoa-rich chocolate to the habitual diet of postmenopausal women reduces their body fat mass and body fat percentage without modifying their weight.”
In a separate study, cacao derivatives were analyzed in animal models for five weeks. The researchers found that the treatments significantly slashed body weight by 39 percent, systolic blood pressure by 27 percent, triglycerides by 55 percent, total cholesterol by 24 percent, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) by 37 percent, and the triglycerides/high-density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio by 54 percent. The cacao derivatives improved the metabolic function of the subjects without leading to secondary effects, the team noted.
Chocolate as a Heart-Healthy Food
Flavonols, which are plant-derived polyphenolic compounds in cocoa, have been linked to improved endothelial function and blood pressure in humans.
A March 2021 study explores the effect the consumption of cocoa flavonols has on stress-induced changes in humans’ vascular function.
The study recruited 30 healthy men to consume a cocoa beverage 1.5 hours before an eight-minute mental stress task, assessing forearm blood flow, blood pressure, and cardiovascular activity before and after, both at rest and during stress.
In the results, cocoa increased forearm blood flow at rest and during stress, with similar effects on stress-induced cardiovascular and blood pressure responses in both situations. Key to the outcomes are flavanols, which effectively counteract endothelial dysfunction and enhanced peripheral blood flow during stress, according to the authors.
But how much chocolate should lead to these benefits? A meta-analysis of 23 studies with 405,304 participants shows that reduced cardiovascular disease risk may occur with less than 100 g (about 3.5 ounces) of weekly consumption.
It’s important to note that larger amounts may negate the benefits and cause adverse effects associated with high sugar intake.
Chocolate as a Longevity Promoter
How about the relationship between eating chocolate and mortality? Research published in July 2021 examines this link in the U.S. population, studying 91,891 participants aged 55 to 74.
The researchers assessed the subjects’ chocolate consumption through a food frequency questionnaire. With an average follow-up of 13.5 years, they documented 19,586 all-cause deaths.
The lowest risk for dying from all-cause mortality was seen at a chocolate intake of 0.7 servings per week and from cardiovascular events at 0.6 servings a week. The benefits were more pronounced in subjects who never smoked compared to current or former smokers.
While the exact causes of aging are yet to be clearly understood, research suggests that telomeres are connected to the aging process. A study found a strong correlation between telomere shortening rate and the lifespan of species such as humans.
Interestingly, research published in 2020 found that adolescents who consumed two servings per week or more of chocolate candy have longer leukocyte telomere length compared with nonconsumers, possibly because of its effect on the apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1)/HDL pathway.
In a 2008 study, cocoa also demonstrated antioxidant, pro-oxidative, and metal-chelating properties on the common fruit fly.
In choosing to use chocolate for its weight loss and longevity benefits, it’s important to consume the right kind.
Dark and Raw: The darker, the better, as this means less sugar is added in the mix. Go for at least 70 percent cacao content, favoring raw cacao because more flavanols are preserved.
Organic: This helps you avoid residues of the herbicide glyphosate and other pesticides used in conventional farming.
Fair Trade: Cacao crops are often unfairly traded and are even associated with the use of child slaves.
Read more scientific studies on the benefits of cocoa or chocolate and how this celebrated health food, in the right amounts and form, may serve as a sweet strategy against disease and premature death at GreenMedInfo.com.
FDA Recognizes Cardiovascular Benefits of Cocoa Flavonols
Break Out The Chocolate
On Feb. 3 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced their approval for a qualified health claim regarding the relationship between high-flavanol cocoa powder and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
The qualified health claim covers products that contain at least 200 milligrams (mg) of cocoa flavanols per serving and at least 4 percent of naturally conserved cocoa flavanols.
The approved health claim is based on a 2018 filing stating that 200 mg of cocoa flavanols can support heart health. The FDA approved the claim but noted that scientific evidence is still very limited.
The 200 mg level in the FDA approved claim is low compared to cocoa flavanol levels administered in successful clinical trials of brain, heart, and metabolic health which seem to range between 500 mg and 1000 mg.
This is consistent with the new flavanol consumption guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommending 400 mg to 600 mg daily to achieve improved cardio-metabolic outcomes.
Harvard’s five-year, 21,400-person placebo-controlled COSMOS study published in March 2022 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that consuming 500 mg of cocoa flavanols per day significantly reduced deaths from cardiovascular disease by 27 percent compared to placebo. The researchers also found a meaningful reduction in major cardiovascular events.
Ground Breaking Dietary Guidelines
The new dietary guideline for daily consumption of flavanols was the first guideline ever recommended that was not based on deficiencies but rather an improvement in health outcomes.
157 randomized controlled studies and 15 cohort studies on flavanols were reviewed by the expert guideline panel to inform these new guidelines.
The panel found that daily consumption of flavanols can reduce the risk associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes and may help improve blood pressure, cholesterol concentrations, and blood sugar.
The suggested daily flavanol intake for the general adult population is 400–600 mg/d.
The authors recommend people achieve target flavanol levels by increasing consumption of nutrient-dense, high-flavanol foods, including cocoa, tea, apples, and berries, and clarify that this is a “food-based guideline” not a recommendation for flavanol supplements.
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of death globally. Studies show that diet quality plays a key role in cardiometabolic disease-free life expectancy and many other studies highlight the cardiovascular benefits of cocoa flavanols.
Flavanols are antioxidants known to produce a powerful anti-inflammatory response, and cocoa beans are a good natural source of these antioxidants.
Cacao has a long history of use dating back thousands of years to the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations where it was used for medicinal purposes and in rituals and ceremonies. Cocao is still used today in ceremonies where raw cacao is said to open the heart.
The flavanol content of cacao products is dependent upon the plant quality, origin, and agricultural and processing practices—so it’s important to purchase it from a reputable source. Processing and heating cocao can cause it to lose its beneficial properties.
It’s also often treated with alkaline to reduce bitterness, which can cause a 60 percent decrease in flavanol content. Because of this not all products containing cocoa will provide the same benefits.
Here are just a few of the ways research has shown that cocoa can improve our health:
1. Keeps arteries young and reduces high blood pressure:
The quote “man is as old as his arteries” made over 300 years ago by English physician Thomas Sydenham still holds true today. Both high blood pressure and arterial stiffness increase a person’s risk of heart disease and strokes.
A study published in Frontiers in Nutrition in June 2022 confirms that cocoa flavanols can improve vascular function, and decrease blood pressure and arterial stiffness in adults within the first 3 hours after ingestion and also shows sustained benefits at 8 hours.
The study also found that cocoa flavanols only decreased blood pressure if it was elevated. If the blood pressure was low in a person on a certain day, the cocoa flavanols decreased blood pressure and arterial stiffness less.
This finding is significant as doctors often fear that some blood pressure tablets can decrease blood pressure too much on some days.
The flavanols in cocoa are also shown to increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, which can help keep arteries open, elastic, healthy, and reduce blood pressure.
2. Reduced risk of CVD, including coronary heart disease and stroke:
Studies suggest a strong correlation between daily consumption of cocoa and better cardiovascular health that may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cocoa has been found to stabilize blood sugar, improve cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and have a blood thinning effect, which reduces the risk of clotting and increases blood circulation to the heart. These outcomes have all been linked to a lower risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
3. Boosts stem cells
Cocoa flavanols have also been shown to increase circulating stem cells.
Participants who drank the high-flavanol beverage had twice as many circulating stem cells compared to the placebo group. The high-flavanol group also showed a major improvement in blood flow and a 47 percent increase in artery flexibility.
4. Improves brain function and cognitive decline
Research shows that compounds in cocoa may enhance memory, improve blood flow to the brain, and improve mental performance.
Studies also indicate cocoa can have a positive effect on neurodegenerative diseases.
A recent systematic review of 19 cocoa flavanol trials on cognition, published in the Journal of Antioxidants, evaluated results from studies including over two hundred thousand participants.
The researchers found that improvements in executive cognitive function, processing speed, and working memory were generally observed in studies where participants consumed cocoa drinks containing 500–900 mg of cocoa flavanols.
The study concluded that “cocoa flavanols may be a promising tool for managing cognitive decline.”
According to a study done by Dr. Walter Willett, of Harvard University, published in Neurology, people who consumed 600 mg of flavonoids per day had a 20 percent lower risk of cognitive decline than those who consumed only 150 mg per day.
The study spanned over 20 years and included over 75,000 participants who entered at an average age of 51.
The study authors said, “our results are exciting because they show that making simple changes to your diet could help prevent cognitive decline.”
Choosing the Right Chocolate
Processing significantly reduces the number of flavonols, so positive health effects most likely will not be seen from the average chocolate bar.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University here are some criteria to look for to maximize the health benefits of cocoa:
- The higher the cocoa content, the more beneficial flavonols the chocolate contains. Most of the benefits seen in research are associated with chocolate that has at least 70 percent cacao content.
- Be sure to check the ingredients. Experts recommend minimally processed dark chocolate with no sugar additives as sugar is shown to be detrimental to our health.
- Researchers have not come up with a specific recommendation of how much dark chocolate should be consumed to achieve health benefits but studies mentioned in this article show that as little as 200 mg of cocoa flavanols per day can support healthy circulation. Brain function and cardio function happen around 500 mg daily before leveling off at about 1,000 mg per day.