Cacao refers to the raw seeds from the Theobroma tree and the use of cacao for health benefits dates back at least 3000 years. Writings of Mesoamerican civilisations describe a beverage made from cacao seeds used for the treatment of many ailments.
Once the seeds have been ground or roasted they become cocoa. Explorers took cacao seeds around the world and finally modern day manufacturing added sugar and fat to create chocolate the confectionary. The label of cacao as a medicine was lost as chocolate became seen as calorie dense and lacking nutritional value. Ironically all the benefits of cocoa have not disappeared, especially if you choose your chocolate wisely.
Chocolate is full of antioxidants which scavenge free radicals decreasing the risk of many chronic diseases. Some chocolate actually has more total antioxidant activity than collard greens and apples. Research shows that flavonoids, in particular, have many beneficial effects on cardiovascular health such as, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and inflammation.
Linked to this, it is suggested that improvements in cerebral blood flow and vascular health enhance cognitive performance including, memory, choice reaction time and mental fatigue.
A recent study showed that a single dose of 50grams of flavanol rich dark chocolate blunted the body’s psychosocial stress reaction when performing a combined public speaking and mental arithmetic task 2 hours later. This could potentially prevent coronary episodes that are triggered by emotional stress.
Chocolate may also assist in the management of insulin resistance and metabolic disturbances. Certainly many nutritionists recognise this and advise their pre-diabetic and diabetic clients eat 1-2 squares of good quality dark chocolate per day, just as if they were recommending a multivitamin tablet.
Theobromine is similar to and found alongside caffeine in chocolate. Studies indicate theobromine may be responsible for some of the beneficial effects attributed to caffeine, whilst having fewer unwanted side effects.
Theobromine has been linked to the prevention of high blood pressure in pregnancy and as an effective bronchodilator, may offer hope for relief from asthma, bronchitis and chronic coughs in the future.
As all chocolate is not created equal, best practice is a small dose of a good quality, at least 70% cocoa, dark chocolate.
By Rachel Livingstone Personal Trainer & Owner of The Health Hub www.healthhub.net.au
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