Why is cacao healthy?

7 April 2021

15 minutes

Did you know that cacao is one of those kinds of food that can keep our body and brain in good shape? Even the ancient consumers of cacao referred to it as the “drink of the gods”. Cacao in its fully nutritious form, i.e. seeds of cocoa fruit or high-fat cacao paste, is a unique composition of nutrients and psychoactive components that nourish our bodies on many levels.

 

Cacao – nutritional super drink

The cacao bean contains more than 500 different chemical substances. It is full of vitamins and trace elements:

  • three key minerals are magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. They support our nervous system and muscles, strengthen them and help alleviate tensions. The presence of calcium and phosphorus may account for cacao’s anti-cariogenic properties.
  • there are trace elements in cacao: copper, which supports hair and nail growth; zinc, which facilitates wound healing; selenium, which together with vitamin E and manganese improves the condition of the skin; fluorine, needed for proper bone growth in children, boron which is good for joints. There is also iron, necessary in the diet to avoid anemia. However, chocolate should not be used as a source of iron because the phytic acid content in cacao may cause c. 70% decrease in iron absorption. Phytic acid can bind to iron molecules, so it is advisable to eat iron-rich meal 2-3 hours after consuming cacao¹.
  • vitamins: A, E, C and B-group vitamins, including vitamin B9, or folic acid².

 

Cacao provides proteins and fats. The cacao bean consists of 40-60% cacao fat. Cocoa butter consists of a single triglyceride with 3 fatty acids: palmitic, oleic and stearic. These are fatty acids that have a positive effect on “good cholesterol” (HDL), which protects our cardiovascular system³. Cacao is also high in dietary fiber.

 

Moreover, raw cacao beans are one of the best natural sources of antioxidants and polyphenols. The flavanols and flavonoids identified in cacao – catechin, epicatechin and quercetin – may increase cell viability and support immunity. Resveratrol, the “polyphenol of longevity,” may slow the aging process, has a protective effect on the heart, may prevent hypertension, and contribute to cancer prevention⁴.

 

What exactly is in cacao and how does it work

In addition to healthy nutrients, natural, full-fat cacao also contains bioactive compounds, that is, compounds that affect our body. Among the substances useful for health and well-being we can list several that are of key importance: 

 

ANANDAMIDE – a neurotransmitter, part of our endocannabinoid system. It derives its name from the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning bliss, which is why it is sometimes called the “bliss molecule”.

It is produced in the body in response to physical exertion and “body work” techniques such as massage⁵. “Externally” it is only available in cacao⁶. Effects:

affects emotions and mood – generates bliss, the feeling of happiness and relaxation,

  • supports learning and creative work – improves cognitive functions such as learning ability, memory, focus and concentration,
  • has a positive effect on appetite and metabolism – helps control appetite,
  • relieves pain and tension, calms, helps to relax and calm down.

 

PHENYLETYLOAMINE – also called PEA, is an alkaloid produced by the human body. It stimulates neurons in the brain involved in the so-called pleasure center. Activation of this center produces a sense of joyful excitement, hence PEA is sometimes called “chocolate amphetamine”. Effects:

  • stimulates the body to produce β-endorphins, “molecules of emotion, happiness and love”, which are responsible e.g. for feelings of pleasure and arousal, including sexual arousal. Its level rises when we fall in love.
  • is called a “natural brain booster”⁷, it stimulates the action of dopamine, responsible for the level of motivation and energy to act⁸,
  • it is secreted endogenously during sleep and exercise, hence the term “runner’s euphoria” which describes the state of happiness athletes feel during training,
  • when there is too little of it in the brain, we may feel fatigue, depression and lethargy.

 

SALSOLINOL – another alkaloid found in large amounts in cacao. It is responsible for increasing phenylethylamine and may be considered an antidepressant⁹.

TEOBROMINE – improves blood flow in the body, has a stimulating effect, fuels the heart to work, dilates blood vessels, increasing blood and oxygen inflow to the cells in our body. After consuming a product rich in cacao, you may “feel the life pulsate inside you”. Unlike caffeine, it does not raise blood pressure and does not cause irregular heartbeat. It accelerates the regeneration of the body both after intellectual and physical exertion. It also facilitates relaxation and falling asleep. Participates in ensuring good flow of oxygen during sleep.

THEOPHYLLINE – an alkaloid that is an active substance found in tea leaves, coffee, guarana and, in small amounts, in cacao. It causes bronchodilation and strengthens respiratory muscles. These properties of theophylline are used to treat chronic bronchitis and asthma.

CAFFEINE – has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system and cardiovascular system. Together with theobromine, it has the effect of reducing fatigue and improving focus. Cacao and chocolate drinks contain 4-5 mg of caffeine per cup¹º. Depending on the species of cacao, the caffeine content varies, with some species containing trace amounts, e.g. Keith’s Cacao [klik – przenosi do sklepu] contains less caffeine than decaf coffee. 

 

AMINO ACIDS – tryptophan, tyramine, serotonin – elevate mood, produce the sense of bliss and contentment.

  • TYRAMINE – dilates blood vessels,
  • TRIPTOPHAN – relieves stress, has a calming effect and improves mood,
  • SEROTONIN – a neurotransmitter, called the “happy hormone”. It is responsible for a good mood and sleep. Its increased level has an antidepressant effect, supports stress reduction and produces the feeling of bliss. At night, serotonin is converted into melatonin, the substance necessary for falling asleep. Higher levels of serotonin may have a positive effect on libido¹¹. We need it to maintain a good mood and the desire to learn.

 

This healthy mix of substances, vitamins and trace elements makes cacao beans a real nutritional cocktail for the body and the brain! If you like this idea and wish to include cacao in your daily diet, please note that most of the studies that highlight health-promoting effects of chocolate are based on the effects of cacao beans, not chocolate candy. The source of health in chocolate stems from substances naturally occurring in cacao, not the “extra bits” added by confectionery manufacturers. Use natural and unprocessed products – cacao beans, nibs, natural cacao paste, or high-quality dark chocolate are great. If you want to read more about the health-promoting properties of cacao, you may be interested in the following post: 10 properties of cacao that are good for your body and your brain.

(1) From: Balanced Vegetarian Diets Training, Damian Parol, PhD

(2) Jak leczyć się czekoladą [How to Treat Yourself Using Chocolate] Professor Henri Joyeux, Jean Claude Berton, AA, Kraków 2020

(3) ibid..

(4)https://dietetycy.org.pl/resweratrol-bioaktywny-polifenol-dlugowiecznosci/  [accessed on: April 4, 2021]

(5) https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anandamid [accessed on: April 4, 2021]

(6)https://biotechnologia.pl/farmacja/anandamid-i-inne-narkotyki-produkowane-przez-ludzki-organizm,17466   [accessed on: April 4, 2021]

(7)https://www.kwestiazdrowia.eu/dietetyka/wlasciwosci-kakao/  [accessed on: April 4, 2021]

(8)https://www.medonet.pl/leki-od-a-do-z/stres-i-bezsennosc,fenyloetyloamina—wystepowanie–dzialanie–skutki-uboczne,artykul,1728473.html   [accessed on: April 4, 2021]

(9) Jak leczyć się czekoladą [How to Treat Yourself Using Chocolate] Professor Henri Joyeux, Jean Claude Berton, AA, Kraków 2020

(10) ibid.

(11)https://dariusz-pichalski.fitness.wp.pl/20559,kakao-6-powodow-dlaczego-to-najzdrowszy-pokarm-na-swiecie[accessed on: April 4, 2021]

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