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Ignite Your Cacao Passion Cacao is packed with natural compounds that scientists have discovered can protect our bodies and promote good health Jill Hillhouse, BPHE, ROHP

“You can’t make me give up my chocolate!” blurted my client the other day as we were finishing our nutritional intake.

This is certainly not the first time I have heard this and being a chocolate lover myself, I can completely empathize. “Ok” I said, “but first, how much chocolate are you eating and more importantly how dark is it?” The percentage we see on chocolate refers to the total amount of ingredients that come from the actual cacao bean. Generally there is an inverse relationship between the percent cacao and the amount of sugar in the chocolate and since the higher percentage means more cacao solids, it also means more of the health benefits. In terms of cell-protecting antioxidant capacity, dark chocolate (at least 70%) and especially raw cacao greatly surpass the well-known super foods blueberries and green tea thanks to an abundance of compounds called flavanols. These antioxidants are one of the keys to heart health because they de-fuse free radicals or unstable molecules that can (among other things) oxidize LDL cholesterol leading to the arterial injury that contributes to atherosclerosis. Flavanols in dark and raw chocolate also appear to promote the body’s production of nitric oxide, a powerful vasodilator that relaxes and widens artery walls thereby reducing blood pressure. The fact is that in the body, without minerals, quite simply nothing works. Thank goodness then for chocolate and its significant mineral content. One ounce (28g) of unsweetened chocolate boasts twenty-seven percent of the daily requirement for iron, one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the U.S. Magnesium is another big issue with some health experts estimating that eighty percent of us have insufficient levels for optimal health. That same little ounce of dark chocolate provides sixteen 14 -

percent of the daily requirement. Magnesium is used in over three hundred chemical reactions in the body and helps promote healthy blood pressure and (ironically) balanced blood sugar. Copper (critical for heart health) and zinc (important for healthy immunity) are also well represented. As with all the health benefits outlined, the darker the chocolate the better; raw cacao being the ne plus ultra. Chocolate has a long history associated with feelings of euphoria and love due to its assortment of natural compounds some of which have been classified as mood-elevating and pleasure-inducing because they affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. One relatively newly discovered compound is anandamide, a messenger molecule that plays a role in pain, depression, appetite and memory and takes its name from the Sanskrit word for “bliss”. Chocolate also contains tryptophan which causes the release of serotonin a known anti-depressant and feel-good neurotransmitter. Theobromine is yet another chemical in chocolate which is a mild natural stimulant that can make us feel alert but does not strongly stimulate the central nervous system like caffeine. It is also a vasodilator contributing to the cardiovascular benefits of improved circulation. It is important to remember that not all chocolate is created equal. In terms of healthpromoting benefits, and I repeat myself, the darker the better with raw cacao being the best. So while I don’t require my clients to give it up, I do get them to move to one ounce of really dark chocolate or raw cacao per day – except for maybe Valentine’s Day. Technical note: Many people have asked me about Dutch chocolate. It is created when an alkalizing agent is added to the cocoa powder to reduce acidity and give it a milder flavor and a darker color. {B}

Blikki Magazine ~ February / March 2013 No. 2  

The Magazine for Compassionate Living