Australians don’t just like chocolate, they love it! Around 70 percent of us eat it regularly and we each consume an average of six kilos of it every year! Despite popular belief, chocolate in its rawest and unsweetened form might actually be good for you!
Chocolate comes from the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) which produces a fruit and the seeds inside are called cacao beans. When they are dried, ground and the natural butters removed, cacao powder is the result. Cacao refers to the raw, unsweetened powder, and should not be confused with cocoa powder which refers to a powder that may have some cocoa butter remnants in it and is produced from roasted beans.
Cacao loaded with antioxidants
Cacao powder is packed with antioxidants. In fact, it contains over 600 antioxidants!
Cacao has 11 times the amount of antioxidants as blueberries and 16 times the amount as goji berries. Information published in The Netherlands Journal of Medicine reported that cacao has large concentrations of flavonoids, epicatechin, catechin and procyanidins. Cacao is also packed with minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc and magnesium.
Cacao packs a mighty health punch
A four-year study conducted by the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Panama compared the health of people living in two areas of Panama. One group lived on the San Blas islands and the other group lived on the mainland. The island residents regularly drank a drink made from cacao, in some cases up to 40 cups of the drink a week. The people on the mainland did not. The incidence of cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart failure was less than 10 percent on the island, much less compared to the rates on the mainland, which the researchers put down to the health benefits of the cacao.
Cacao is heart friendly
Worldwide research has revealed that people who consumed cacao, either in powdered drinks or via dark chocolate had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t eat or drink it. Additionally, research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that cacao may decrease the oxidation of LDL – or bad – cholesterol levels. Plus, a study published in the British Medical Journal discovered that people who consumed controlled amounts of chocolate reduced their risk of heart disease by 37 percent.
The Dieticians Association of Australia and the Heart Foundation reminds Australians that chocolate should not be used to prevent or treat heart disease and that chocolate, even dark chocolate, should only be eaten occasionally.
Cacao calms you
Swiss research found that eating dark chocolate made with cacao helps to alleviate stress and increase alertness. Study participants who had high anxiety levels ate dark chocolate for 14 days and at the conclusion of the study, their stress levels were rated at low. It’s believed this is the case as cacao consumption encourages serotonin production, which helps calm the nerves.
Look for high-quality cacao at your Go Vita health shop, it’s a dark powder and will taste bitter – use in cooking as you would cocoa or for a nutritious drink mix with hot water or milk (coconut, rice or soy milk are good options). Add agave or honey if you think it needs some sweetening!