Cocoa The Food Of Gods
What is Cocoa? Cocoa is simply a slightly processed cacao bean. The Theobroma cacao tree was named by the Swedish Botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753; the name is Latin for “food of the Gods”. Cacao beans and nibs have a long and colorful history, beginning in Central and South America around 1400 BC. The entire cacao fruit was used medicinally by the Mayan, Olmec and Aztec civilizations. Unbelievably, these early civilizations discovered that a little honey added to slightly processed cacao beans would make a special drink, one of the most popular beverages today; chocolate. The Mayan and Aztecs believed cacao was a “gift from the gods”. After the Spanish conquest of the 1500’s, cacao & its derivative cocoa spread quickly through Europe and then worldwide. Nutritionally, the main difference between Cacao and Cocoa is that to improve the taste, cacao is subject to a higher temperature than cacao during processing, which alkalizes the cacao to remove the bitterness. The bitterness is from the polyphenols (antioxidants) so some get destroyed, but a significantly large amount are retained. They are excellent for your heart, skin, blood pressure and even your stress levels,11 which makes Cocoa a Super food and the base for one of the most popular foods in the world, chocolate.
Cocoa, the Super food. Benefits:
Significantly lower rates of:
• All-cause mortality
• Cardiac death
• Cardiovascular disease
• Heart failure
• Myocardial infarction
• Platelet function
• May Prevent Atherosclerosis
• Improves Cognitive function in elderly people with mildly cognitive impairment
• Cocoa (dark chocolate) consumption has many cardiovascular benefits
• May inhibit development of Alzheimer Disease
• Improves blood flow to the brain
• Dark chocolate consumption for just one month improves vascular function in young, healthy subjects
• Improves Endothelial Function – see blog
• Improves Oxidative Stress in Overweight People
• Improves Skin Condition
• Good Source of Fiber and Benefits Gastrointestinal Health
• Good source of calcium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and potassium, in addition to vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5 C & E
• Contains more magnesium than any other food
• Good source of sulphur
• Great all around for Heart Health, Reducing Cardiovascular Risk Factors
• Reverses Vascular Dysfunction in Diabetic Patients
• Chocolate Makes you Smarter, A New Harvard Study
• May prevent degenerative diseases, including cancer
Did You Know?
• Because cocoa beans were so highly valued for their medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties, they were traded as currency among ancient South American civilizations.
• Apparently Casanova was very fond of them.
• In Aztec times, the common currency was of course trade and bartering. The two most common ways the Aztecs bartered was through the use of cocoa beans made into chocolate and cotton. The word chocolate actually came from the Nahtul language xocolati.
• An archeological dig in Colha, Belize discovered spouted vessels (“chocolate pots”) containing residue of a cocoa drink predates earlier estimates; they appear to be from 600 B.C. to A.D. 250.13
Is All Chocolate Good For You?
• No. Lower grade chocolate, often called “candy”, has additives like high-fructose corn syrup, sugar and partially hydrogenated oils, which limit the amount of actual cocoa. Dairy products block the absorption of antioxidants, so chocolate “bars” do not deliver anywhere near the health benefits of cocoa. Always read the ingredients and know your chocolate supplier. Sam’s cocoa powder is raw and the “chocolatiest” cocoa this writer has tried. Mixed with a little pure maple syrup I also add Matcha, almond milk & other herbs like the chalky-tasting Boswellia and suddenly all you taste is chocolate, much like the healthiest chocolate shake you could have!!!
Clinical Studies of Cocoa and Chocolate
• Epidemiological studies have shown that those eating the highest levels of chocolate had significantly lower rates of all-cause mortality, cardiac death, cardiovascular disease, heart failure, myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke and diabetes. This is thought to be due to down-regulating the inflammatory process and increasing nitric oxide (NO). High flavanol cocoa has been shown to increase NO and flow-mediated dilation (an indicator of healthy circulation. 1
• Nitric Oxide also plays a role in proper platelet function. In 25 intervention studies only cocoa has been shown to consistently benefit platelet function.1
• Cocoa is able to improve lipid (fat) profiles and insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, reduce platelet activity and function and help with endothelial dysfunction. Recent evidence suggests that the anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa lower the initiation and progression rates of atherosclerosis a.k.a. arteriosclerotic vascular disease or ASVD.2
• In a 2012 study, the Cocoa, Cognition & Aging (CoCoA) study, the authors concluded by saying that “the results of the current study provide encouraging evidence that the regular inclusion of flavanol-containing foods may be an effective dietary approach for improving some aspects of cognitive dysfunction in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).3
• In a 2007 study focused on heart-transplant patients because they are particularly vulnerable to arteriosclerosis, which limits long-term survival. The authors reported that dark chocolate “markedly improves coronary vasodilation, which indicates an increase in the bioavailability of nitric oxide and a decrease in platelet reactivity. Findings are evidence that epicatechin (antioxidant) is a likely dominant mediator or improved coronary vasomotion, along with procyanidins.4 (Procyanidins are members of the proanthocyanidin (or condensed tannins) class of flavonoids. They are oligomeric compounds, formed from catechin and epicatechin molecules. These are the molecules that make Matcha tea such a potent cancer fighter.
• In studies, a growing number of flavonoids have been shown to inhibit the development of Alzheimer disease-like pathology and to reverse deficits in cognition in rodent models; this suggests a potential usefulness in treating dementia. Their specific interactions have been shown to increase the expression of neuroprotective and neuromodulatory proteins and increase the number of and strength of connections between neurons. At the same time, their positive effects on the vascular system may also lead to enhanced cognitive function due to increased blood flow to the brain and an ability to initiate neurogenesis in the hippocampus.5
• In another study where researchers evaluated the cognitive effects of cocoa, the authors concluded that the consumption of cocoa flavanols (increasing blood flow to the brain) may produce enhanced cognitive performance and an elevated mood during cognitive processingl. Cognitive performance, attention span, reaction time and problem-solving skills are all enhanced. Sounds like a great way to get through a tough job faster & smarter while maintaining a great mood!!10
• Cocoa and dark chocolate improve endothelial function. What is the endothelium?
The endothelium is the thin layer of cells that lines the interior surface of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels forming an interface between circulating blood or lymph in the lumen and the rest of the vessel wall. The cells that form the endothelium are called endothelial cells. Endothelial cells in direct contact with blood are called vascular endothelial cells, whereas those in direct contact with lymph are known as lymphatic endothelial cells. Vascular endothelial cells line the entire circulatory system, from the heart to the smallest capillaries. These cells have unique functions in vascular biology. These functions include fluid filtration, such as in the glomeruli of the kidney, blood vessel tone, hemostasis, neutrophil recruitment, and hormone trafficking. Endothelium of the interior surfaces of the heart chambers is called endocardium (Wikipedia). In a 2008 study of 45 healthy men and women, researchers found that consuming dark chocolate and liquid cocoa significantly improves endothelial function, and lowers blood pressure in overweight subjects.6
• Oxidative stress is a factor in the development of atherosclerosis. When a body’s antioxidant system is weak and the production of reactive oxygen species is increased, the possibility of the development of harmful oxidative stress is increased. This is particularly true of overweight middle-aged people, who are more at risk of cardiovascular disease. In a 2014 study of 54 healthy but overweight people at the University of Navarra in Spain, half of the subjects were given cocoa extract. Authors of the study concluded that the consumption of cocoa extract within a hypocaloric diet improved the oxidative status in middle-aged subjects, especially in men. Cocoa flavanols added to the diet reduce cardiovascular disease risk.7
• In another 2014 study, consumption of chocolate high in flavanols increased skin elasticity but did not provide protection from the sun8, a benefit they had hoped for.
• The amount of fiber we consume in North America and Europe is considerably below the recommended amount. (15-20g/day vs 25 g/day recommended). A 2012 study showed that cocoa powder is an “efficacious alternative to increase fiber intake to recommended levels” and that it “causes significant positive changes in bowel function”. 9
• Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s hospital published a study recently in the journal Neurology that looked at cocoa flavanols and their effect on blood pressure. Nitric Oxide, formed by the flavanols has been shown to relax blood vessels. Based on this study, Dr. Randal Thomas, an internist at the Mayo clinic said “I’ll mention to my patients that a little dark chocolate may be a good thing…and cocoa powder is probably the best way to get their flavanols.” The study also looked at 60 people between the age of 67 and 77 who had 30 days of twice-daily hot cocoa. The results were a 30% increase in memory and thinking abilities among those who originally had impaired blood flow to the brain. After a month’s worth of chocolate, participants had an impressive 8.3% increase in blood flow to the brain.10
• A 2003 study comparing the antioxidant power of cocoa, red wine, green tea and black tea found that Cocoa beat the rest out, in the preceding order. Procyanidin in cocoa (a phenolic phytochemical & potent antioxidant) has been extensively investigated as to its possible role as a cancer-preventive agent, based on the abilities of the type of antioxidants it contains. Free radicals are believed to cause degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease and cerebrovascular disease and cocoa’s phenolic compounds may delay or prevent their onset.12
1. American Botanical Council HerbClip September 28, 2012
2. American Botanical Council HerbClip December 31, 2009
3. American Botanical Council HerbClip February 28, 2013
4. American Botanical Council HerbClip July 31, 2008
5. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Abstract January 2012, Volume 52, Issue 1 Pages 35-45
6. American Botanical Council HerbClip August 31, 2008
7. American Botanical Council HerbClip August 29, 2014
8. American Botanical Council HerbClip January 15, 2015
9. American Botanical Council HerbClip July 31, 2012
10. Boston Magazine.com, Melissa Malamut, Hub Health, August 8, 2013
11. One Green Planet.org. Cacao vs Cocoa: What You Need to Know
12. American Botanical Council HerbClip August 31, 2004
13. Science News Journal, thefreelibrary.com/chemistry+pushes+back+first+use+of+the+drink