We all know how irresistible cacao-rich chocolate can be, but is it actually good for you? Read on to find out…
Cacao vs cocoa…
Cacao beans are found inside pods which grow on the cacao fruit tree. Once the pods are cracked open, the beans can then be used to produce raw cacao powder or chopped into nibs. Cacao has been used for years in many cultures for its health benefits and is the purest form of chocolate available. It is raw and a super source of monounsaturated fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals, magnesium, antioxidants and flavanols, a type of polyphenol naturally found in plants and believed to have numerous benefits on the heart and overall health (Reference1).
Cocoa powder is made by heating cocoa beans to high temperatures and then grinding them into a powder. This process reduces the concentration of flavanols but gives cocoa a slightly sweeter taste. Cocoa powder still contains some of the health boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants but in less abundance.
During the conventional chocolate manufacturing process from fresh cocoa seeds to the final product, the cocoa beans undergo further processing methods such as roasting and fermentation which further reduce the flavanol content. Milk chocolate has the lowest flavanol content compared with cocoa powder and dark chocolate (Reference2). Shop bought chocolate is often processed and often contains cocoa, sugar, milk and other ingredients which may not have the same health effects.
What are the health benefits?
Research has shown that cacao and dark chocolate may have numerous health benefits which include:
- lowering blood pressure
- Increasing the activation and bioavailability of nitric oxide
- Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiplatelet effects
- Improving insulin resistance
- Improving vascular and endothelial function
- Protective effects on the heart, brain, skin and immune system (Reference3)
So great news! Feel free to enjoy a little dark chocolate but make sure you remember, the darker the better!