Here’s delicious news that will make your heart rejoice: the raw form of chocolate (cacao) has a host of health benefits, including reducing risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). What’s more, it contains more disease-fighting antioxidants than do such “superfruits” as blueberries, cranberries, and acai, according to a study published in Chemistry Central Journal.
One of the most ancient medicinal foods, raw cacao (spelled cocoa in the US) come from cacao beans, the seeds of the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree, a scientific name that literally means “food of the gods.” Centuries ago, Aztecs considered beans so valuable that they were actually used as money as well as the drink of the elite.
In fact, raw cacao has such powerful healing effects that I actually “prescribe” it, in moderate amounts, as one of the Omni nutripower foods recommended in my book, The Omni Diet: The Revolutionary 70% Plant + 30% Protein to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, Fight Inflammation, and Change Your Life Forever*, where you can read about more delicious superfoods—and how to lose up to 12 pounds in 2 weeks.
One of the most intriguing findings about cacao comes from studies of the Kuna Indians, who live on islands off the Panamanian coast. Scientists discovered a surprising secret of their remarkable low rate of CVD, despite their relatively high salt intake. Genes weren’t protecting the Kuna, since they developed high blood pressure and CVD at typical rates if they gave up their native ways, moved to the mainland and began eating a typical Western diet.
“What was particularly striking about their environment was the amount of cocoa they consume, which was easily 10 times more than most of us would get in a typical day,” Dr. Brent M. Egan, a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina who studies the effect of chocolate on blood pressure, stated in a recent National Institutes of Health report, “Claims About Cocoa: Can Chocolate Really Be Good for You?”
What the researchers discovered was that the Kuna made a drink with raw cacao (using dried and ground beans), with only a little added sweetener.
Here’s a look at more new findings about the health benefits of raw cacao:
- Reduced risk for diabetes. An analysis of 42 randomized clinical trials of chocolate, cacao, and flavan-3-ol (a heart-protective compound in cacao) discovered “previously unreported promising effects” for combatting insulin resistance, the root cause of both type 2 diabetes and many heart attacks.
- A healthier, smarter brain. The researchers also linked chocolate and cacao to improvements in blood pressure and increased blood flow through the arteries, both of which benefit both the heart and the brain. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, explaining why cacao has been tied to lower stroke risk in several randomized studies. Other plant chemicals in cacao boost mood and brainpower, with a small British study reporting that men and women performed better on mental tests a few hours after eating a dark chocolate bar.
- Protection against heart attack. In a large German study involving more than 19,000 initially healthy people, the researchers found that people who ate an average of 7.5 grams of chocolate daily were 27 percent less likely to have heart attacks or strokes during 8 years of follow-up, compared to those who consumed less than one gram, even when such cardiovascular risks as high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol were taken into account.
- A potential weapon against cancer. A cacao compound called pentameric procyanidin may help protect against cancer by deactivating proteins that prompt cancer cells to continuously divide, a study at Lombard Comprehensive Cancer Center suggests. However, the research doesn’t prove that consuming cacao will prevent or help treat cancer. Stay tuned because further research is in the works to explore potential anti-cancer effects of cacao compounds.
Remember, great health is about abundance, not deprivation! The Omni Diet* is about filling your diet with a wealth of delicious, nutritious foods that will heal your body from the inside out and give you vibrant health!