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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!

References:

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.

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