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Resveratrol – Just Another Reason to Eat Cacao

Get your Resveratrol by Eating Healthy Chocolate

Get your Resveratrol by Eating Healthy Chocolate

Resveratrol is the highly potent antioxidant most commonly known for its presence in red wine. It has been at the heart of the debate as to why French people live healthier lives. But recent research is showing that red wine is not the only substantial source of resveratrol.

And that’s good news for people who can’t tolerate wine or choose not to drink alcohol and want another option to add to their healthy eating regime.

Cacao is a Great Source of Resveratrol

A new study published in the September 2008 issue of the Jounal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry revealed that the levels of resveratrol found in cacao and chocolate products are second only to red wine among known sources of resveratrol.

What’s even more encouraging is that this study didn’t even use “good quality” raw cacao. Instead, the researchers studied top selling retail chocoloate products from six categories and tested them for levels of resveratrol and its sister compound, piceid. The six product categories included cocoa powder, baking chocolate, dark chocolate, semi-sweet baking chips, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup.

Gram for gram, cocoa powder had the highest average amount of resveratrol and piceid, followed by baking chocolates, dark chocolates, semi-sweet chips, milk chocolate and then chocolate syrup. And remember cocoa powder is nowhere near the nutritional quality of “cacao powder” – the original, unadulterated ingredient in chocolate. One can only imagine how much higher resveratrol levels would be in this form.

Cacao – The Food of the Gods

Cacao (aka. Raw chocolate) is the seed of an Amazonian fruit tree brought to Central America during or before the time of the Olmecs, an ancient Mexican tribe. It is the main ingredient in chocolate. Cacao beans were so revered by the Mayans and Aztecs that they used them as money! In 1753 Carl von Linnaeus, the 18th-century Swedish scientist, thought that cacao was so important that he named the genus and species of this tree himself. He named this tree: Theobroma cacao, which literally means “cacao, the food of the gods.”

Cacao is a highly complex natural food which contains in excess of seven hundred naturally occurring compounds, with many more yet to be discovered. Cacao is probably best known for being the best source of antioxidants of all foods. It blows goji berries, acai berries, and other wild berries out of the water!

It is also one of the highest food sources of magnesium – one of the most deficient minerals in the western diet. Because magnesium is a natural relaxant it could explain why women crave chocolate during their menstrual periods. Magnesium also balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones, and is associated with more happiness.

Cacao also seems to diminish appetite, probably due to its monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibitors (MAO inhibitors) – these are different from digestive enzyme inhibitors found in most nuts and seeds. These rare MAO inhibitors actually produce favorable results when consumed by allowing more serotonin and other neurotransmitters to circulate in the brain.

Cacao also contains Phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA is an adrenal-related chemical created within the brain and released when we are in love. This is one of the reasons why love and chocolate have a deep correlation. PEA also plays a role in increasing focus and alertness. Yet another neurotransmitter, anandamide, has been isolated in cacao. Anandamide is produced naturally in the brain and is known as “the bliss chemical” because it is released when we are feeling fantastic. Cacao contains enzyme inhibitors that decrease your body’s ability to breakdown anandamide. This means that natural anandamide and/or cacao anandamide may stick around longer, making you feel extra blissful when you eat cacao.

So we’ve learned a little bit more about cacao – and specifically raw cacao – and its numerous health-promoting benefits. Now, let’s look at what resveratrol is all about and why you probably want more of it in your.

Resveratrol Mimics the Effect of Calorie Restriction

You may have heard that consuming fewer calories is a good thing, and not just for weight loss. Caloric restriction has been implicated with numerous health and longevity benefits. In simple terms, when the body doesn’t have to focus all of its energy on digestion, it can divert its energy on healing and repairing the body. Across the wrorld, the longest living people tend have lower calorie healthy diets. In fact, it is recommended that all it takes is 30% fewer calories to live longer than average!

Studies on yeast have shown that when they are starved they produce an enzyme called sirtuin, which has the ability to repair DNA. Similar findings have been shown in fruit flies, rodents, and monkeys – all of whom live longer when on a calorie-restricted diet.

Ok, now back to resveratrol. Researchers are now speculating that resveratrol may be able to increase the activities of life-promoting enzymes, such as sirtuin, that are present in a low calorie diet.
Cardiovascular, Neurological, and Cancer Protection?

According to a recent review article in Nutrition Reviews, resveratrol was shown to improve insulin sensitivity, blood cholesterol levels and have neuroprotective actions in animal studies. Further, the article states that studies in mice indicate that diets high in resveratrol were associated with increased longevity.

More and more research is beginning to show that resveratrol exhibits a plethora of beneficial effects including anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective and anti-tumor activities.

Currently, numerous preclinical findings also suggest resveratrol as a promising natural weapon for cancer prevention and treatment. As a potential anti-cancer agent, resveratrol has been shown to inhibit or retard the growth of various cancer cells in culture and implanted tumors in vivo.

Resveratrol acts by targeting many components of intracellular signaling pathways including pro-inflammatory mediators, regulators of cell survival and apoptosis, and tumor angiogenic and metastatic switches by modulating a distinct set of upstream kinases, transcription factors and their regulators (sorry for being so technical!).

In simpler terms, resveratrol’s protective role can be narrowed down to its ability to rid the body of free radicals, its anti-inflammatory effect, and its tendency to hold down cell growth!


Kundu, J. et al (2008). Cancer chemopreventive and therapeutic potential of resveratrol: Mechanistic perspectives. Cancer Letters, 269(2): 243-261.

Hurst, W. et al (2008). Survey of the trans-Resveratrol and trans-Piceid Content of Cocoa-Containing and Chocolate Products. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 56: 8374-8378.

Davis, C. & Ross, S. (2008). Dietary Components Impact Histone Modifications and Cancer Risk. Nutrition Reviews, 65(2): 88-94.


Product Review: TRU Chocolate vs. Xocai

A “True” Comparison, by Doctor Steven Warren, M.D., D.P.A.

Xocai Healthy Antioxidant Chocolate vs. TRU Chocolate – What’s the difference?

I have been approached by a number of people asking my opinion on TRU Chocolate, another “healthy” chocolate being sold via MLM. I conducted a thorough examination of the information and science available, and the following are my conclusions.

TRU Chocolate is a relatively new chocolate product sold through the Youngevity network marketing company. The company itself has been around for years, selling all kinds of health supplements, makeup, home and garden chemicals, and now chocolate. I counted over 80 different items on their product overview webpage.

So, the big question is, how does TRU Chocolate stack up against Xocai, the Healthy Chocolate™?

ORAC Comparison

First off, let’s compare ORAC values. You might remember that ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is how scientists measure the antioxidant capacities of food and nutritional supplements. The higher the ORAC value, the better the product is in countering the damage done by harmful free radicals in the body.

As with Xocai, one of the main marketing “hooks” with TRU Chocolate is its ORAC value. Youngevity touts that TRU Chocolate has an ORAC rating of 3040 per eight gram piece. This actually compares favorably with Xocai products such as the Xocai Nugget™ (3120 per 12g piece) and X Power Squares™ (3582 per 6g piece).

One big concern I have is that nowhere on the package labeling is there an independent verification of the ORAC claims made by Youngevity about TRU Chocolate. MXI Corp, the manufacturers of the Xocai product line, submits actual products to Brunswick Labs for independent testing and measurement. I have personally spoken with the Brunswick scientists and read their reports, so I’m comfortable that the Xocai ORAC values are properly documented.

My suspicion is that Youngevity has merely taken the ORAC values for different ingredients in their product (we’ll talk more about this later), and used these figures to calculate an ORAC value, rather than actually having their product tested by an independent laboratory.

If we look at a comparison of ORAC value by price, we see that a typical month’s supply of TRU Chocolate is 6 bags (total of 720 grams) of product for $120 (wholesale). That works out to $0.1667 per gram, or $0.0005 per antioxidant ORAC unit ($120/ 237,600 ORAC units total).

A month’s supply of Xocai X Power Squares totals 828g of product, and sells for $110 wholesale. That comes to $0.1328 per gram, or $0.00025 pre antioxidant ORAC unit ($110 / 436,800 ORAC units total).

Clearly, TRU Chocolate costs twice the amount of Xocai X Power Squares™ when compared on a per-ORAC basis.

What’s Inside?

Next, let’s take a look at what’s inside TRU Chocolate.

According to Youngevity’s labeling, TRU Chocolate contains, organic chocolate liquor, organic cocoa butter, xylitol, and a herbal formula of momordica charantia, noni fruit, citrus extract, ellagic acid, green tea extract, Fabanol®, Bioprene®, lectin, and organic lecithin.

“Chocolate liquor” is an industry term for cocoa mass that is produced by taking cocoa beans that have been fermented, dried, roasted and separated from their shells, and grinding the cotyledon at the center.

The problem here is that this method of processing cocoa results in a poor end product in terms of flavanols contained. You might have learned from some of my other work that the flavanols in cocoa are responsible for most of the amazing health benefits science has been uncovering over the past several years.

Only cold processing, a patented method used by MXI Corp in their Xocai™ line of chocolate, preserves enough flavanol content for the chocolate to really be considered “healthy.” Whether the chocolate liquor is “organic” (implying somehow that the chocolate is healthy) is beside the point. How the cocoa is processed determines what health benefits, if any, are retained in the finished chocolate product.

Another concern I have about the ingredients in TRU Chocolate is the caffeine content. The addition of green tea extract, in addition to the cocoa processing method, will result in a product much higher in caffeine than necessary. Sure, caffeine has some weight-reducing properties due to its capacity to increase the body’s metabolism, but there are also quite a few side effects, including “jitteriness,” elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate, nausea, sleep difficulty, etc.

Properly processed cocoa will have only trace amounts of caffeine. The true mood-enhancing properties in cocoa are found in a chemical called theobromine, which has none of the unwanted side effects of caffeine.

Along with the added caffeine jitters you might get from TRU Chocolate, you can also expect to experience diarrhea from not only the xylitol (a natural, but by no means “calorie-free” sweetener), but also the Fabanol® (a carbohydrate blocker), as well as Bioprene™ (flavor-enhancement derivative from black peppers).

Let me be clear: such side effects are not generally associated with cocoa. In my opinion, the added ingredients in TRU Chocolate lead to unhealthy weight loss.

Again, for me the “kicker” is that Youngevity does not disclose the amount of flavonoids in their product. And it’s obvious that much of their claim of ORAC comes from the other ingredients added to make up for the lost flavanols in the cocoa.

Both Xocai™ and TRU Chocolate contain the same levels of natural sugars (Xocai uses a low-glycemic raw cane crystals), but pregnant women are strongly (and rightfully) advised in the literature not to consume some of the TRU Chocolate products due to some of the ingredients.

By way of ingredient comparison, Xocai™ uses unprocessed, cold pressed cocoa with cocoa butter; not vegetable oils. The correct amount of cocoa in Xocai products provides quantifiable benefits without the side effects of both the caffeine and xylitol present in TRU Chocolate. The slow released sugars in Xocai (i.e. raw cane crystals) allow Xocai’s patented cocoa to naturally push the sugars into the cells to be used for fuel. Remember, you need sugar to survive, but it must be in the right amounts in addition to being in the correct form. Xocai™ can also be a great source of fiber which is necessary for good health.

Misleading Comparisons

The TRU Chocolate website includes a comparison of their product to Xocai. I just wanted to address some of the misleading representations.

First, while Xocai™ does contain sugar, the sugar in Xocai™ are raw can juice crystals. This is a low-glycemic sugar that does not boost insulin levels in the blood stream like a regular processed sugar. As a matter of fact, Xocai™ products are diabetic friendly.

Next, TRU Chocolate claims to include organic ingredients that Xocai™ does not have. My question here is what support Youngevity gives for their claims of “organic.” Their packaging does not explain exactly what their definition of organic is. Xocai™ products have no artificial colors, artificial flavors, or fillers. This is a claim that TRU Chocolate just cannot make.

Youngevity falsely claims that Xocai™ contains no cocoa butter. Xocai™ chocolate does indeed contain cocoa butter, which is a neutral fat. The Xocai™ labeling identifies this as a saturated fat, which causes panic in some people who think all fats are bad. The truth is that cocoa butter is a scientifically proven neutral (non-absorbed) fat.

Lastly, Youngevity makes the curious claim that the cocoa powder in Xocai™ products is a “chemically processed food that is the ‘waste product’ of the chocolate manufacturing process.” To be honest, I’m not even sure where to begin to address this claim.

Let’s be clear: Xocai™ products use cacao that is blanched, unfermented, sun-dried, non-roasted and cold-pressed, which means it boasts eight times the levels of epicatechins and catechins (flavonoids), and four times the levels of procyanidins (another flavonoid) than cacao produced with standard processing. Xocai™ products (the entire product, not just the separate ingredients) are independently tested by Brunswick Labs, guaranteed to contain the levels of flavonoids and ORAC value found on the packaging.


The bottom line is that TRU Chocolate is a product with insufficient amounts of the right ingredients, and too much of the wrong ones. I fully expect that you will be seeing many more so-called healthy chocolate products coming on the market in the next few years, as science continues to support what we already know about the health benefits of dark chocolate, but unless these products are created with the right formulations and through the correct processes, there won’t be much that is healthy about them at all.


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Chocolate ‘cuts death rate’ in heart attack survivors…

by Marlowe Hood Marlowe Hood

PARIS (AFP) – Heart attack survivors who eat chocolate two or more times per week cut their risk of dying from heart disease about threefold compared to those who never touch the stuff, scientists have reported.

Smaller quantities confer less protection, but are still better than none, according to the study, which appears in the September issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine.

Earlier research had established a strong link between cocoa-based confections and lowered blood pressure or improvement in blood flow.

It had also shown that chocolate cuts the rate of heart-related mortality in healthy older men, along with post-menopausal women.

But the new study, led by Imre Janszky of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is the first to demonstrate that consuming chocolate can help ward off the grim reaper if one has suffered acute myocardial infarction — otherwise known as a heart attack.

“It was specific to chocolate — we found no benefit to sweets in general,” said Kenneth Mukamal, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a co-author of the study.

“It seems that antioxidants in cocoa are a likely candidate” for explaining the live-saving properties, he told AFP in an exchange of e-mails.

Antioxidants are compounds that protect against so-called free radicals, molecules which accumulate in the body over time that can damage cells and are thought to play a role in heart disease, cancer and the aging process.

In the study, Janszky and colleagues tracked 1,169 non-diabetic men and women, 45-to-70 years old, in Stockholm County during the early 1990s from the time they were hospitalised with their first-ever heart attack.

The participants were queried before leaving hospital on their food consumption habits over the previous year, including how much chocolate they ate on a regular basis.

They underwent a health examination three months after discharge, and were monitored for eight years after that. The incidence of fatal heart attacks correlated inversely with the amount of chocolate consumed.

“Our findings support increasing evidence that chocolate is a rich source of beneficial bioactive compounds,” the researchers concluded.

The results held true for men and women, and across all the age groups included in the study.

Other factors that might have affected the outcome — alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking — were also taken into account.

So should we all be loading up on cocoa-rich sweets?

“To be frank, I’m pretty cautious about chocolate because we’re working on weight problems with so many individuals,” said Mukamal, who is also a practicing physician.

“However, I do encourage those who are looking for healthier desserts to consider chocolate in small quantities,” he said.

“For individuals with no weight issues who have been able to eat chocolate in moderation and remain slim, I do not limit it,” he added.

The researchers caution that clinical trials are needed to back up the findings of their study.

In the meantime, however, a bit of chocolate may not be amiss, they suggest.

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Dark Chocolate: Half A Bar Per Week May Keep Heart Attack Risk At Bay

ScienceDaily (Sep. 24, 2008) — Maybe gourmands are not jumping for joy. Probably they would have preferred bigger amounts to support their passion. Though the news is still good for them: 6.7 grams of chocolate per day represent the ideal amount for a protective effect against inflammation and subsequent cardiovascular disease.

A new effect, demonstrated for the first time in a population study by the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University in Campobasso, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute of Milan.

The findings, published in the last issue of the Journal of Nutrition, official journal of the American Society of Nutrition, come from one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted in Europe, the Moli-sani Project, which has enrolled 20,000 inhabitants of the Molise region so far. By studying the participants recruited, researchers focused on the complex mechanism of inflammation. It is known how a chronic inflammatory state represents a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease, from myocardial infarction to stroke, just to mention the major diseases. Keeping the inflammation process under control has become a major issue for prevention programs and C reactive protein turned out to be one of the most promising markers, detectable by a simple blood test.

The Italian team related the levels of this protein in the blood of examined people with their usual chocolate intake. Out of 11,000, researchers identified 4,849 subjects in good health and free of risk factors (normal cholesterol, blood pressure and other parameters). Among them, 1,317 did not use to eat any chocolate, while 824 used to have chocolate regularly, but just the dark one.

“We started from the hypothesis,” says Romina di Giuseppe, 33, lead author of the study “that high amounts of antioxidants contained in the cocoa seeds, in particular flavonoids and other kinds of polyphenols, might have beneficial effects on the inflammatory state. Our results have been absolutely encouraging: people having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood. In other words, their inflammatory state is considerably reduced.” The 17% average reduction observed may appear quite small, but it is enough to decrease the risk of cardio-vascular disease for one third in women and one fourth in men. It is undoubtedly a remarkable outcome”.

Chocolate amounts are critical. “We are talking of a moderate consumption. The best effect is obtained by consuming an average amount of 6.7 grams of chocolate per day, corresponding to a small square of chocolate twice or three times a week. Beyond these amounts the beneficial effect tends to disappear”.
From a practical point of view, as the common chocolate bar is 100 grams, the study states that less than half a bar of dark chocolate consumed during the week may become a healthy habit. What about the milk chocolate? “Previous studies,” the young investigator continues, “have demonstrated that milk interferes with the absorption of polyphenols. That is why our study considered just the dark chocolate”.

Researchers wanted to sweep all the doubts away. They took into account that chocolate lovers might consume other healthy food too, as wine, fruits and vegetables. Or they might exercise more than others people do. So the observed positive effect might be ascribed to other factors but not to cocoa itself. “In order to avoid this,” the researcher says, “we adjusted for all possible “confounding” parameters. But the beneficial effect of chocolate still remained and we do believe it is real”.

“This study” says Licia Iacoviello, Head of the Laboratory of Genetic and Environmental Epidemiology at the Catholic University of Campobasso and responsible for the Moli-sani Project, “is the first scientific outcome published from the Moli-sani Project. We consider this outcome as the beginning of a large series of data which will give us an innovative view on how making prevention in everyday life, both against cardiovascular disease and tumors”.

“Maybe,” Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University of Campobasso, adds, “time has come to reconsider the Mediterranean diet pyramid and take the dark chocolate off the basket of sweets considered to be bad for our health”.

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Fight Disease with Antioxidants…Healthy Chocolate!

We mentioned antioxidants earlier. Antioxidants are chemicals that combat the free radical molecules that are created every day inside our bodies—molecules that damage our systems. Three of the most important and effective sources of antioxidants might surprise you, and products that contain two or three in combination could very well change many of the commonly held beliefs about nutrition:

1. The acai berry
2. Blueberries
3. Unprocessed cocoa

Most of us have only an improper diet to blame for our obesity, low energy, mood swings and other health problems. Of course, this can be corrected by changing what we eat, and by consuming more of the foods listed above.

The acai (ah-sah-EE) berry is an excellent source of vitamin A, which is vital for good vision, growth, skin health and reproduction. 100 grams, or roughly 3.5 ounces, of acai has an ORAC rating of about 5,500 units. ORAC, (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is the unit by which antioxidants are measured. The recommended daily consumption of Antioxidants is between 4,000 and 5,000 ORAC units.

Consuming 5,000 ORAC is the equivalent of eating seven to 10 servings of any combination of fruits and vegetables. . Acai is far ahead of the other fruits in its capacity to absorb free radicals in the human body.
Dr. Nicholas Perricone, a clinical and research dermatologist, named the acai to the top of his famous Superfood List. The unusually high levels of phyto-nutrients (nutrients that are beneficial to your health) and antioxidants are what make the acai berry stand out from all other fruits. Found primarily in the Northern Regions of Brazil, the acai is such an important source of nutrition, that individuals in the region drink almost as much acai juice as they do water. The acai fruit is also a complete protein, which means it contains every essential and non-essential amino acid.

Jiu-jitsu fighters and soccer players in Brazil often have a large meal of acai berry pulp before a competition. Why? Aside from being a perfect source of nutrition and carbohydrates, the high levels of antioxidants in the acai berry provide a dramatic increase in energy levels and stamina. Taken on a regular basis, the acai berry strengthens the immune system to the point where the body easily handles infections and disease. This frees up even more energy for other uses.

The acai berry contains a natural combination of antioxidants, essential fatty acids, amino acids and phytosterols. Amino acids work together to help your body function better, process food more easily, and burn fat more efficiently. It is literally one of the best things you can put into your body to keep it healthy. And when your body is healthy and well-balanced, it is much easier to reach an ideal body weight.
The acai berry contains enzymes and other vital nutrients that aid in the digestion process. A healthy digestive system is not plagued with such challenges as acid reflux and other similar ailments. Acai also contains a significant amount of fiber, which helps your digestive tract process food.

Packed with antioxidant phyto-nutrients called anthocyanins, blueberries neutralize free radical damage done to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues—unchecked, this damage can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease and cancer. Anthocyanins, the blue-red pigment found in blueberries, improve the integrity of support structures in the veins and the entire vascular system. Anthocyanins have been shown to enhance the effects of vitamin C, improve capillary integrity, and stabilize the collagen matrix (the ground substance of all body tissues). They work their protective magic by preventing free-radical damage, inhibiting enzymes from clinging to the collagen matrix, and directly cross-linking with collagen fibers to form a stable collagen matrix.

While wine, particularly red wine, is touted as a cardio-protective substance (a good source of antioxidant anthocyanins), a recent study found that blueberries deliver 38% more of these free radical fighters than red wine.

In this study, published in the August 2003 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers found that a moderate drink (about 4 ounces) of white wine contained .47 mmol of free radical absorbing antioxidants. Red wine provided 2.04 mmol, and a wine made from high-bush blueberries delivered 2.42 mmol of these protective plant compounds. (October 1, 2003) Pterostilbene, (pronounced TARE-oh-STILL-bean), a powerful antioxidant compound found in blueberries—already known to fight cancer—may also help lower cholesterol.

In a study using rat liver cells, scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Service compared the cholesterol-lowering effects of pterostilbene to those of ciprofibrate (a lipid-lowering drug) and to those of resveratrol. Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in grapes that has a chemical structure similar to pterostilbene, and has been shown to help fight cancer and heart disease.

The USDA based their comparison on each compound’s capacity to activate PPAR-alpha (short for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha). The PPARs are a family of receptors on cells all throughout the body that are involved in the absorption of compounds into cells for use in energy production. PPAR-alpha is crucial for the metabolism of lipids, including cholesterol. Pterostilbene was as effective as ciprofibrate and outperformed resveratrol in activating PPAR-alpha (January 14, 2005). The take-away message: Turn up your cholesterol burning machinery by eating more blueberries, grapes and cranberries.
In animal studies, researchers have found that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress, and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Researchers found that diets rich in blueberries significantly improve both the learning ability and motor skills of aging rats—essentially reversing the cognitive aging process.

In addition to powerful anthocyanins, blueberries contain another antioxidant compound called ellagic acid. Ellagic acid blocks metabolic pathways that can lead to cancer. In a study of 1,271 elderly people in New Jersey, subjects who ate the most strawberries (another berry that contains ellagic acid) were three times less likely to develop cancer than those who ate few or no strawberries. In addition to containing ellagic acid, blueberries are high in the soluble fiber pectin, which has been shown to lower cholesterol and to prevent bile acid from being transformed into a potentially cancer-causing form.

Cocoa is King

Believe it or not, dark chocolate can be one of the healthiest foods you will ever eat. The key is that it must be processed correctly to be beneficial.

Cocoa powder is rich in the polyphenols, mainly flavonoids—flavan-3-ols, flavonols (epicatechin and catechin), and procyanidins. Cocoa is from the plant Theobroma cacao.

Cocoa butter accounts for 50% of the weight of the cocoa bean, with the main fatty acids being stearic and palmitic (saturated fats), oleic (the one in olive oil, a monounsaturated fatty acid) and linoleic acid (polyunsaturated).

Even though we are taught that saturated fats are harmful to the cardiovascular system, the saturated stearic acid fat from the cocoa bean does not elevate blood cholesterol like other saturated fatty acids. Fat from cocoa butter is not absorbed well by the intestinal tract, and is considered ―neutral‖ in terms of its effect on weight gain and impact on cholesterol. Research shows that these cacao fatty acids may modify LDL-C, making it more resistant to oxidation.

The cocoa bean also contains some insoluble and soluble fiber, which contributed to lower cholesterol levels. Fiber is extremely beneficial in lowering colon cancer rates, improving sugar metabolism and preventing constipation.

The cocoa bean contains several minerals and vitamins which are useful. Dark chocolate contains magnesium, which is necessary for muscle relaxation, nerve conduction, energy production and bone and teeth development and overall health. Magnesium deficiencies intensify the effects of PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Copper—found in rich supply in dark cocoa—is involved in many of the chemical processes in the body.

Dark cocoa also contains high levels of potassium, which is vital for cardiovascular health.
The flavonoids in cocoa are the flavan-3-ols, flavonols (catechin and epicatechin; procyanides), and proanthocyanidins. Pound-for-pound, dark chocolate has the highest concentration of these flavonoids of any food—even more than acai or blueberries. Cocoa is loaded with a variety of phyto-nutrients, making it very high in antioxidants.

Cocoa rates as one of the highest whole foods on the ORAC scale—even higher than green tea, acai, blueberry and red wine, which have all been shown to be very effective antioxidants.

Cocoa can stop the oxidation of the LDL-C cholesterol as discussed previously, resulting in reduced cardiovascular damage. Cocoa flavonoids can also increase the production of good cholesterol (HDL), which mops up the harmful fats from the blood vessels. Cocoa flavonoids discourage platelets from forming harmful clots and damaging heart muscle blood vessels. The flavonoids in cocoa help the blood vessels dilate more easily, allowing more blood flow to the heart (nitric oxide (NO) activation). This same principle is applicable to insulin-stimulated blood sugar uptake, resulting in improved diabetic control. Cocoa has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, stopping the inflammatory process (cytokines) from damaging the body.
In several studies, dark chocolate has been shown to decrease blood pressure, which in turn
decreases the damage to heart vessels. Cocoa is thought to be a renin-angiotension enzyme inhibitor, which is the same principle on which many blood pressure pills work (ACE inhibitors).

There have also been studies showing that dark cocoa can help reduce dental cavities, decrease the plaque on teeth, and prevent gum disease.

Research in dementia has shown that the progression of the condition can be combated by the same antioxidant principles we have been discussing. Several vitamins, particularly vitamin E and certain B-vitamins, have been used to help with dementia. As noted previously, cocoa has the same capacity to decrease free-radical damage, limiting dementia and improving memory.

Dark chocolate improves the body’s ability to use insulin and stops the insulin-resistance condition that can lead to diabetes. Cocoa can increase nitric oxide levels to help with insulin-stimulated uptake of blood sugars. The increase in nitric oxide also improves the health of the blood vessels, limiting the damage of diabetes on the small vessels.

Cocoa has been found to help with liver damage, and can repair liver cells after long-term exposure to alcohol.

What exactly is in cocoa that provides so many benefits? To hear one tout its benefits, cocoa almost sounds like ―snake oil‖ sold in traveling caravans. The truth is that cocoa is a complex food. There are over 300 different chemical components found in cocoa. The cocoa bean is the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree, and the beneficial effects are wholly determined by how it is grown, handled, and processed.

In general, cocoa contains Cocoa butter (a neutral fat consisting of oleic, stearic, and palmitic fatty acids), minerals (copper, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, and calcium), theobromine and trace amounts of caffeine, and mood-enhancing chemicals (PEA, tyramine, tryptophan, and serotonin). This is just an abbreviated list of the chemicals found in cocoa.

In addition to the main chemicals which provide a majority of the health benefits, cocoa also contains polyphenols. Polyphenols are a large class of compounds that provide the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of fruits and vegetables. One of the most important classes of polyphenols are flavonoids. Flavonoids can be further broken down into smaller families –flavanones, flavones, flavonols, flavanols (flavan-3-ols), anthocyanins and isoflavones.

Within the flavanol family exist powerful stand-alone (―monomeric‖) chemicals known as epicatechins and catechins, as well as compound chemicals (―oligomeric‖) known as procyanidins. These substances are the true backbone of the health properties derived from cocoa.

Epicatechin is the predominant polyphenol in cocoa, and accounts for a majority of the health benefits that scientists attribute to this wonderful food. Cocoa is one of the most polyphenol-rich foods available on Mother Earth. However, the processing and manufacturing of the cocoa bean has an enormous impact on the levels of these substances that are actually contained in the final product.