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Examining the Properties of Chocolate and Cacao for Health

Are you one of the rare individuals on this planet who does not like nor ever craves chocolate at some point in your life? But, if you are like most of the Western world, have you ever wondered why chocolate can be so addictive, apart from its rich sweet lingering taste? Well, it has to do with your brain chemistry and brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters.

What are neurotransmitters? They act like messengers or little power-brokers that run around in our brain telling the body what to do. They orchestrate our moods, influence our thought patterns, and affect our energy levels, states of alertness, concentration and drowsiness.

So what does chocolate and neurotransmitters have in common? Chocolate affects the brain by causing the release of certain neurotransmitters which can trigger emotions, one of which is euphoria; maybe that's why it is so desirable?

The health-benefits of chocolate have been known to us for some time now, but there is more to chocolate that we need to know. For instance, did you know that chocolate and cacao are not the same? True, there is a clear distinction between commercial chocolate which has no health benefits and organic dark chocolate, ideally with no added sugar. Yet if you're a chocolate lover, consider small amounts of raw cacao as a better option.

The reason why raw cacao is the best choice for healthy benefits is because raw cacao contains the very popular antioxidants (anti-aging guys) that make raw cacao a superfood. But there is more to know than just this.

Let's have a look at raw cacao:

Cacao is derived from Theobroma Cacao beans, which literally means "Food of the Gods". Cacao contains over 300 compounds including: protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium. Magnesium helps to build strong bones and is a muscle relaxant associated with feelings of calmness. Cacao is also high in sulfur, which helps form strong nails and hair.

In addition, cacao also contains the chemicals phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide. PEA is an adrenal-related chemical that we create naturally when we're excited. It also plays a role in feeling focused and alert because it causes your pulse rate to quicken, resulting in a similar feeling to when we are excited or fall in love!

Another 'bliss' chemical found in chocolate is the lipid anandamide. It's there in our brain when we feel great. Anandamide is also called "chocolate amphetamine" as it causes changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar levels, leading to feelings of excitement and alertness.

Anandamide works like amphetamines to increase mood and decrease depression, but it is not addictive like caffeine or illegal with undesirable side-effects like amphetamines. Anandamide is quite unique in its resemblance to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a chemical found in marijuana.

The good news is that even though the anandamide in chocolate helps to create feelings of elation, the effect is not the same as the THC in marijuana. It would take approximately twenty five pounds of chocolate to achieve a 'high' similar to marijuana and the nausea would overpower any feelings of bliss at all.

Are there any controversial compounds in Cacao?

Yes, out of 300 plus compounds found in raw cacao there are at least two:

1) theobromine - affects our nervous system

2) oxalic acid - inhibits calcium absorption

Lets look at the most controversial ­ theobromine. Theobromine makes up between 1-2% of the cacao bean and it stimulates the central nervous system and dilates blood vessels. Theobromine has about 1/4 of the stimulating power of its sister molecule caffeine.

Theobromine is a mild diuretic (increases urination) and has been used as a medical drug to treat heart attacks that have resulted from an excessive accumulation of body fluid.

It's interesting to note that dogs should not eat cacao or chocolate because they lack the necessary enzymes to metabolize theobromine in excess of 100-150 mg per kilogram of the dog's body weight. If dogs eat this much cacao it can cause cardiac arrest.

Probably the most controversial of theobromine effects is that it can cause some people to feel hyper and then lethargic, in a very similar way to caffeine. Also, theobromine can cause headaches in some individuals. There has been some debate as to whether or not caffeine really exists in chocolate. Some scientists believe that it is the theobromine which is solely responsible for its caffeine-like effects.

Caffeine and Cacao:

* According to the Chocolate Information Center, sponsored by Mars Inc., a 50-gram piece of dark chocolate (about the size of your average chocolate bar) will yield between 10 and 60 milligrams of caffeine, while an average 150 ml cup of coffee can yield up to 175 milligrams.

* 40 grams of dark chocolate contains the same amount of caffeine as one cup of decaffeinated coffee, and yet it will stimulate sensitive individuals.

* A cup of hot chocolate usually contains about 4 or 5 milligrams of caffeine, which is about 1/20 that of a cup of regular coffee.

So what is the story with Oxalic Acid found in cacao?

Although both cacao and chocolate are rich in calcium, they contain oxalic acid as one of their 300 plus compounds. Oxalic acid interferes with the body's absorption of calcium. Not only does oxalic acid prevent cacao products from being good sources of calcium but oxalic acid also interferes with calcium absorption. If you are consuming traditional chocolate with sugar then calcium loss is even greater as sugar excretes calcium reserves from our body even more so than oxalic acid.

Other foods that contain moderate amounts of oxalic acid are rhubarb stalks, star fruit, black pepper, parsley, poppy seed, amaranth, spinach, chard, beets, most nuts and beans.

Is Cacao the best antioxidant on the market?

That all depends on what kind of cacao, where it is grown and how it has been treated. If it is certified as Organic Raw Cacao then it is an excellent source of antioxidants and if it is not then you are consuming a whole lot of chemicals from irradiation and spraying of chemicals which are standard practice in growing cacao beans.

In the ORAC chart raw cocoa powder is at the top of the antioxidant list with almost four times the amount of antioxidants as Goji Berries.

The ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture to measure the effectiveness of antioxidants to absorb free radicals that cause cell and tissue damage. The higher the ORAC score, the higher the level of antioxidants present in the food.

Even though cacao is much higher in antioxidants than goji berries, it does not mean that it is better. Why? Because consuming 100 grams of goji berries is quite beneficial whereas consuming 100 grams of raw cacao is too much in one day in one go, and the benefits would turn into side-effects. Cacao is simply very powerful on your central nervous system and with this much cacao, the content of oxalic acid would interfere with calcium retention. Yet, consuming 40 grams of raw cacao at the most or a 50 gram organic, dark, sugar-free chocolate is beneficial and quite enjoyable.

ORAC scores for the Top 10 Antioxidants Foods (per 100 grams)

1) Raw cocoa powder* 95,500

2) Raw cacao nibs* 62,100

3) Roasted cocoa powder 26,000

4) Organic Goji Berries* 25,300

5) Acai Berries* 18,500

6) Dark Chocolate 13,120

7) Milk Chocolate 6,740

8) Prunes 5,770

9) Raisins 2,830

10) Blueberries 2,400

Source: US department of Agriculture/Journal of American Chemical Society

*Brunswick Laboratories MA, USA

Finally, choosing raw organic cacao powder and having approximately 40 grams at most, equivalent to 4­6 heaped teaspoons, throughout the day is ok. Replacing your morning coffee with a raw cacao drink would be a much healthier alternative as it is loaded with antioxidants and bliss chemicals. An ideal and healthy way of having hot cacao is with some organic coconut milk and stevia with some cinnamon added on top, a recipe for a "pick me up and feel good" without the hype and jitters.

Please bear in mind that having too much cacao in one go can overstimulate your central nervous system, as well as your heart and your brain. This can cause you to feel quite hyper and then drowsy at some point after. That is the side-effects of having too much. Be aware that cacao nibs are quite potent and having 4-5 is probably enough, having a handful is overdoing it.

If you love chocolate as most of us do, pick a dark organic variety with no added sugar. Raw cacao might just perk up your mornings and elevate your moods in times when you want to stay productive.

References:

Lead Contamination in Cocoa and Cocoa Products: Isotopic Evidence of Global Contamination (http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/8...)

Cousens, Gabriel, M.D. with Mark Mayell. Depression-Free for Life. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Jensen, Dr. Bernard. Dr. Jensen's Guide To Body Chemistry & Nutrition. Los Angeles, CA: Keats Publishing, 2000.

Holt RR, Lazarus SA, Sullards MC, et al. Procyanidin Dimer B2 [epicatechin-(4beta-8)-epicatechin] In Human Plasma After The Consumption of Flavanol-Rich Cocoa. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002; 76:1106-1110.

Richelle, M, Tavazzi I, Offord E, "Comparison of the Antioxidant Activity of Commonly Consumed Polyphenolic Beverages (Coffee, Cocoa, Tea) Prepared Per Cup Serving," J Agric Food Chem. 2001;49:3438-3442.

Rios LY, Bennett RN, Lazarus SA, et al. "Cocoa Procyanidins Are Stable During Gastric Transit In Humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002; 76:1106-1110.

About the author
Teya Skae M.A., B.A.,Dip Health Sciences, Dip Clinical Nutrition Kinesiologist/Nutritionist/Writer Health/Life Coach and Educator Teya is the founder of Empowered Living www.empowered-living.com.au specialising in Metabolic Typing Nutrition and Results Fat Loss. Teya writes article for various publications and runs courses in health and human potential.

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kiwi_family
post Feb 9 2008, 01:51 PM



(1) The articles says, ". . . consuming 40 grams of raw cacao at the most or a 50 gram organic, dark, sugar-free chocolate is beneficial and quite enjoyable." Yes, yes! Where do we find it? We only very rarely found organic sugar-free chocolate in the U.S. and have never been able to find it in New Zealand (where we live) or Australia.
(2) The articles says, "Cacao contains over 300 compounds including: . . . iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium." Lest anyone get confused: Cacao contains over 300 compounds including: iron, zinc, copper, calcium, and magnesium, are *not* compounds; they are elements.

Still looking for organic sugar-free chocolate,

Bob the emigrant

diana
post Feb 9 2008, 07:01 PM


On this same forum:
http://www.organicvirtues.com/

Have no idea if it's legit, or good, or anything else. But it is posted here on another thread -- by the owner of the store-site, apparently. --d

OrganicAssistant
post Feb 11 2008, 11:24 AM


I was recently in hospital and some of the questions asked said "do you smoke.... drink.....etc" then I admitted I was a chocaholic!!
So was the doctor who had a sense of fun.
On my discharge I was given a medical prescription certificate - For Life.
"Dark Organic Chocolate on Demand".
Who, where when and what will remain the most closely guarded secret and locked in my bank vault.
http://www.organicassistant.com/search_results.php
Unless ofcourse someone where to offer me 1 million, 2 million....

OrganicVirtues
post Today, 08:59 AM


I am the owner of OrganicVirtues.com and we are 100% legit. Not only are we a company selling products with a cause by giving back 5% to organic associations, but your first $5.00 is on us! Here is a link to our organic vegan chocolate and cocoa: http://www.organicvirtues.com/index.php?cPath=44