Chocolate : The Most Powerful AntiOxidant Food in the World

Chocolate is one of the world’s most ancient and delicious foods, but did you know that it is also the one thing that could allow you to live into a ripe old age?

David Wolfe - TEDx Talk - Passion for Chocolate

A Brief History of Chocolate
Chocolate grows on cacao trees and has been famous world-wide for centuries.

The Mayans are purported to be the first to consume cacao and indulge in its wealth of antioxidant benefits.

In the 1500s, cacao moved to Europe where it was further combined with sugar to form the very first dark chocolate bars and drinks.

It was not until the late 1800s that manufacturers began to mix milk solids with cacao to make universally affordable products: milk chocolates and the first candy bars.

This is how we have come to know chocolate today.

Cacao: A Food Made Fit For The Gods
Cacao has more nutrition in it than any other food in existence.

What you may not know about pure raw chocolate is that it is the ultimate superfood, loaded with far more antioxidants than any other food available on the planet!

To give you an idea of how action packed cacao beans are, here are the primary nourishing antioxidant compounds found in it:

  • Anandamide
  • Caffeine
  • Calcium
  • Catechin
  • Epicatechin
  • Epigallocatechin
  • Flavan-3-Ols
  • Gallocatechin
  • Iodine
  • Linoleic Acid
  • Magnesium
  • Oleic Acid
  • Phenylethylamine
  • Phosphorus
  • Proanthocyanidins
  • Resveratrol
  • Salsolinol
  • Serotonin
  • Theobromine
  • Tryptamine
  • Tryptophan
  • Tyramine
  • Tyrosine

All of these substances contribute to an elated mood, extra energy, a sense of well-being, improved cognition and enhanced physiological development.

However, to indulge in all these wonderful compounds, one has to ingest raw cacao.

To make chocolate, manufacturers ferment cacao beans before roasting them and subjecting them to a process of alkalizing. All of these processes mostly destroy the vast wealth of cacao polyphenols, reducing them by up to 98%!

Science has revealed that trace amounts of these polyphenols remain in good quality dark chocolate, mainly the flavonoids that give chocolate it’s delicious flavor.

Two of the most potent antioxidant compounds that remain behind after cacao beans become roasted are epicatechin and catechin. These happen to be two substances that have been shown to pass the blood-brain barrier after chocolate consumption and confer optimal antioxidant protection to our brains.

Dark chocolate remains to have the highest concentrations of these compounds when compared to green tea or blueberries, even after processing!

7 Health Benefits of Cacao for the Aging Brain

Dark chocolate confers such high benefits that it should be implemented in everyone’s lives as a nutritional anti-aging strategy[1]The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance.

The below anti-aging benefits of cacao will highlight why it is a game-changer for our brains and bodies.

1. Improves Blood Flow In The Brain
The main mechanism that researchers have uncovered resting behind the brilliance of cacao, is that it increases blood flow, including blood flow inside the brain.

Upon ingestion, chocolate stimulates the production of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide then acts to dilate the blood vessels, allowing for blood to flow easily.

Not only does this help areas of the brain to function better, but it helps the body as a whole. Muscle building, metabolism, elimination of toxins, energy production in the mitochondria, heart function and cognition all rely heavily on ample blood flow.

Increased blood flow simultaneously acts to lower blood pressure.

Combined with many of the ‘feel-good’ compounds inside chocolate, it is not a surprise that chocolate is also one of the best aphrodisiacs.

It is further noted amongst researchers that aging goes hand-in-hand with a decline in vascular function and impaired blood flow, which causes multiple problems in the brain and body.

This alone is enough to venerate chocolate consumption as an ultimate anti-aging strategy, but it is not the only means by which chocolate protects us!

2. Prevents the Death of Neurons
Multiple ingredients inside of raw cacao will act to protect neurons and other tissues in our bodies from cell death (apoptosis).

Epicatechin, one of the primary active polyphenols inside of commercial dark chocolate, was shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and specifically protect neurons from cell death[2]Uptake and metabolism of epicatechin and its access to the brain after oral ingestion!

This directly proves that dark chocolate is exceptionally beneficial for combating the effects of neurodegeneration and aging, having far-reaching implications for those with Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and much more.

Considering that this is just a small portion of cacao’s nutritional profile, imagine what eating raw cacao will do in terms of protecting your brain!

3. Elates Mood and Fights Depression
It’s not a secret that eating chocolate makes you feel good!

Anandamide, serotonin, tryptophan and many of the other compounds found in the raw cacao bean will immediately enhance your mood. These substances are known as feel-good chemicals, bliss substances and the compounds of love.

Many of these positive compounds become metabolized in the gut before they can reach the brain by the use of monoamine oxidase.

However, you can make full use of them if you eat cacao with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, such as grapefruit. Some literature warns about overloading your system with tyrosine when inhibiting monoamine oxidase, so do not try this unless you are feeling ultra depressed!

Even better news is that the ability for the chocolate to counteract depression extends beyond needing to metabolize these compounds in the brain.

In a study done on aged rats, it was observed that cacao preserves natural states of Dopamine in the brain[3]Effects of long-term administration of a cocoa polyphenolic extract (Acticoa powder) on cognitive performances in aged rats.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that allows us to feel good and having natural levels of it in our systems will prevent us from craving rewards or from feeling sad.

So even though cacao we do not benefit fully from compounds in cacao that directly translate into ‘feel-good’ chemicals, it still allows us to maintain an optimal amount of them in our systems.

Another way cacao counters depression is from a purely neural perspective. From a neurological standpoint, depression is an entire loss of feeling or emotion entirely.

This is typically the result of impaired neuronal activity in the Hippocampus and surrounding regions of the brain.

The polyphenols found in cacao and chocolate stimulate neuronal activity in these areas of the brain as well as protect them from further harm.

So through a combination of giving the body building blocks for neurotransmitters involved with feeling, increasing blood flow to the emotional regions (and everywhere else) within the brain and promoting neuronal activity, dark chocolate combats depression and allows us to feel good.

It contains other compounds, such as magnesium, which contribute to relaxing muscles in the body. If you feel down because you suffer from chronic anxiety, cacao should also be included in your daily routine.

4. Protects Against Alzheimer's Disease
The research is incredibly clear when it comes down to dark chocolate’s ability to protect against Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease is categorized by the aggregation of specific proteins in the brain, namely amyloid beta protein. When this protein is oxidized, it aggregates into amyloid beta plaques which essentially contribute to a brain full of gaps where neurons should be firing.

Furthermore, these plaques are known to continuously release free radicals and promote brain tissue damage, neuronal death, and rapid decline.

Cacao and the polyphenols Epicatechin and Catechin have all been shown to prevent these plaques from destroying other parts of the brain, including neurons, efficiently slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease[4]Epicatechin and Catechin in Cocoa Inhibit Amyloid β Protein Induced Apoptosis.

Those who ingest cacao are also far less likely to contract Alzheimer’s Disease, as it will prevent preliminary inflammation cascades from exacerbating the condition.

5. Increases Cognitive Function
If it wasn’t already obvious, dark chocolate increases cognitive function in people of all ages.

This is achieved via the increase in blood flow as well as the protection and stimulation of neurons.

In a study carried out on aging citizens with cognitive dysfunction, cacao polyphenols directly improved cognition[5]Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study—a randomized controlled trial.

Aside from the above-stated mechanisms, researchers believed that this improved cognition was also related to the fact that cacao will improve insulin sensitivity, stabilize blood sugar levels and improve overall metabolism.

All of these markers that were previously thought to only relate to diabetes and heart diseases are now being recognized as playing a major role in declining cognition.

In other words, the brain is not separate from the gut, and everything that will aid diabetes such as cacao will also aid your ability to think more clearly for longer!

6. Improves Eye Sight and Spatial Awareness
Chocolate will improve your vision and help to keep your eyes functioning until a ripe old age!

In a study carried out, chocolate improved visual sensitivity and allowed participants to detect movements faster[6]Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in an acute improvement in visual and cognitive functions. Cacao was also proven to improve the ability to read low contrast lettering, a common problem for those who are losing their eyesight.

In the same study, cacao polyphenols also appeared to impart an increase in spatial awareness that allowed them to focus on their surroundings in a more lucid manner. This is a form of cognitive improvement that works hand-in-hand with visual sensory input.

Cacao achieves this through enhanced blood flow and antioxidant protection.

Combining cacao with anthocyanins and carotenoids is likely to make for the potent vision-deficit cure of the future!

7. Enhances Neurogenesis and Neuroplasticity
Know anyone with a brain injury? Give them raw cacao!

It has been noted that the increase in cranial blood flow, as well as the antioxidant functions of cacao, appear to enhance neuronal ability[7]Cocoa Flavanols, Cerebral Blood Flow, Cognition, and Health: Going Forward.

Participants who ingested dark chocolate were shown to have an increase in neural activity in their brains. The ability for neurons to grow, remain plastic (adaptive) and to live for longer were all enhanced by the polyphenols found in chocolate.

This will result in better mood, memory, recovery time and will increase overall longevity in people.

Which Chocolate is Best?
When thinking about the benefits of chocolate, do not confuse the different kinds of chocolate.

Raw cacao has the maximum antioxidant capacity of any superfood on the planet with an ORAC value of close to 1000! This is the best form of chocolate in the world.

However, these beans go through a series of steps before they reach us.

  1. Firstly, the beans are fermented. Some sources say this increases the number of nutrients inside the beans, while other research proves that this reduces the amount of catechin and epicatechin.
  2. Secondly, the beans are then roasted. This creates an abundance of oxidation, which destroys nearly all the antioxidants such as proanthocyanins in the cacao bean. On the other hand, this process increases the flavanols (such as epicatechin) by over 600%!
  3. Thirdly, many chocolatiers alkalize the beans, a method known as Dutch processing. This dramatically reduces the content of what little polyphenols that remain by 98%.
  4. Lastly, chocolate is “watered down”. The last thing that chocolate makers do is add milk solids, which further strips cacao of its beneficial properties. Milk chocolate is not beneficial as it traditionally only contains about 10% of this already reduced version of cacao.

Aside from raw cacao, organic dark chocolate with 70% or more cacao in it will have the most benefits.

How Much Chocolate Should We Be Eating?
Eating a mountain of dark chocolate is not going to confer optimal benefits as the body can only metabolize very few polyphenols at one time.

These polyphenols also accumulate in our systems, conferring more benefits the longer you consistently eat them over time.

This is fantastic news for those who love eating chocolate as it means that eating a small dose every day is more beneficial than eating a large dose once a month!

The research reveals that 100mg of Epicatechin[8]The Impact of Cocoa Flavanols on Cardiovascular Health showed to be the most effective daily dose regarding the antioxidant benefits of consuming dark chocolate.

This translates to a daily dose of ±40-200g of dark chocolate, depending on what brand you decide to buy, the beans used and how they were processed. Organic and raw chocolates will confer even more benefits!

Indulge in the potent power of raw cacao beans by grinding them up and adding them to condiments and smoothies.

100% Raw Cacao Chocolate is another pure source of all the antioxidants your body craves!

This chocolate is made only using raw organic unprocessed cacao beans, making it one of the very few 100% dark chocolates available.

If you cannot get your hands on the raw beans, then opt for a very good quality dark chocolate. This dark chocolate was produced using beans that have one of the highest phenolic contents and were prepared with minimal processing.

Raw cacao powder is another great way to include these polyphenols into your life. Easily make delicious hot drinks, smoothies or chocolate porridge while enhancing your performance during the day!
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