Ancient civilizations considered cacao a life-enhancing, medicinal superfood, but once Milton Hershey figured out how to mass-produce milk chocolate over a century ago, cacao became synonymous with the sweet candy treat. Today, scientists are beginning to rediscover what the ancients knew: Cacao is one of nature’s most powerful, multi-tasking, therapeutic foods.
Cacao vs. Candy
Technically speaking, Theobroma cacao is the tree that bears pods full of the seeds that we usually call cocoa beans—although chocolate experts generally call the beans “cacao” and the powder “cocoa.” Either way, the beans are a concentrated source of powerful antioxidants that lower blood pressure; improve cholesterol levels and blood flow; enhance heart and artery health; regulate blood-sugar and mood; lower levels of stress hormones; and even extend life.
Chocolate emerges when ground beans or cocoa powder are mixed with fat, sugar, and perhaps milk. This combination has more calories than pure cocoa, and it dilutes—but doesn’t necessarily destroy—the beans’ medicinal qualities.
The Latest Research
A review of seven studies that followed more than 114,000 people, published in the British Medical Journal, found that those who ate the most chocolate had 37 percent less risk of heart disease, 29 percent less risk of stroke, and 31 percent less risk of diabetes. In the studies, people consumed chocolate bars, chocolate drinks, chocolate cookies, even chocolate supplements. Their overall intake was what mattered.
In another study, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that people who regularly eat chocolate are thinner than abstainers, possibly because the antioxidants in cocoa beans improve metabolism. And British researchers found that eating 100 grams of dark chocolate two hours before cycling reduced the levels of oxidative stress that typically accompany intense exercise.
Earlier this year, the American Chemical Society, held a special symposium on cocoa where international experts presented the results of new studies, including:
Ways to Eat Cocoa
Consuming any amount of cocoa in place of less-healthy calories delivers benefits. These are some ways to do it:
How to Benefit from Supplements
Eric Ding, PhD, an instructor and nutrition researcher at Harvard Medical School, is part of a team that reviewed well over 100 cocoa studies. "Between 400 and 500 mg of cocoa flavonoids daily will produce maximum benefits," he says. Outside of supplements, research suggests that you'd need to eat around 6—7 100-gram (3.5 oz) milk chocolate bars or 3 100-gram dark chocolate bars to obtain that amount of flavonoids.
CocoaVia Daily Cocoa Extract Supplement Each single-serving stick delivers 250 mg of cocoa flavanols from cocoa extract. Just stir the yummy low-calorie powder into yogurt, water, or your favorite beverage.
True Energy is made with organic cocoa powder, a plant flavanol complex including green tea, and an adaptogenic herbal blend to provide energy without jitters.
Healthy Indulgence Multi Vitamin & Minerals are a delicious way to take your vitamins. Chocolatey, melt-in-your mouth medallions pack 60% cacao flavonoids plus 13 vitamin and mineral essentials.