Cacao Powder Health Benefits
What’s So Special About Cacao?
“Have Your Chocolate, and Eat it Too”
Cacao powder is rich in a variety of potent compounds ranging from beneficial plant-derived compounds like flavonoids and polyphenols to molecules like caffeine, resveratrol, theobromine and more. Ultimately, it’s clear that cacao extract contains a wealth of potent beneficial bioactive compounds that, when consumed on a regular basis, can support general health and function.
Most of the cacao health benefits that are talked about are attributed to molecules called ‘flavanoids’. Flavonoids are beneficial compounds found in plants, and in this case, they are derived from the seeds of the cacao plant — the part used to make chocolate.
What is Cacao?
“Dark chocolate is healthy chocolate”.
You’ve probably seen several headlines communicating the message that, why, yes, chocolate does have some healthy properties, and it may not be such a bad thing to eat it on a regular, or dare I say, daily, basis.
What you’re reading is true.
The evidence is pretty clear that dark chocolate, in particular, contains a multitude of healthful compounds that can help improve blood flow, antioxidant status, increase insulin sensitivity and more. Cacao powder benefits are wide ranging and can have a significant impact on your health.
Cacao Creates Improvements in Vascular Function
Numerous studies have shown that doses of ~ 50 grams of dark chocolate were able to improve blood flow and vascular function in smokers, patients with artery disease, and those at risk of cardiovascular disease. Moreover, similar studies have shown that continuous cacao powder supplementation over an extended period of time may have efficacy in decalcifying the arteries, thus improving blood flow and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The main cacao powder benefits appear to be related to the downstream effects of improvements in blood flow. As a result of cacao powder extract or dark chocolate ingestion, there have been reported improvements in insulin sensitivity (improved blood flow to muscle tissue), enhanced cerebral oxygenation and thus, a protective effect against stroke and neurodegenerative disease.
One cohort study of over 37,000 men showed that those who consumed the most chocolate over the course of 10 years, had the lowest risk of stroke. Another study suggested that high doses of cocoa extract may improve cognitive function in elderly populations with pre-existing cognitive impairments. Lastly, a few studies that administered a dose of 100 grams of dark chocolate daily for 15 days reported an increase in insulin sensitivity compared to placebo.
Cacao Health Benefits & Effect on Triglycerides
There has been ample research investigating the effects of cacao extract on LDL (aka bad cholesterol). As it turns out, a meta-analysis found a minor reduction in LDL cholesterol, suggesting that cacao powder might be helpful as a treatment for hypertension, and other cardiovascular diseases. It has been shown that cacao is effective in reducing LDL, but has little or no effect on overall cholesterol, or HDL.
Cacao Benefits and Physical Performance
Rodent studies suggest that cacao might be helpful in building muscle, or preserving it, as an effort to offset muscle wasting over time and in aging populations. Additionally, cacao powder has been shown to improve oxygen metabolism, mitochondrial function, and improve endurance capacity.
Ok, So How Much Can I Eat?
When it comes to indulging, the bottom-line is that moderation is everything even when the cacao health benefits are stacked. You can probably fit your favorite treats into your diet and still achieve your health and body weight goals. When it comes to chocolate, you should opt for dark chocolate to reap the most benefits. Studies have shown that consuming between 5 – 26 grams of dark chocolate provides 65 – 1,095mg of the healthful flavonols, compared to a daily dose of cocoa extract which provides 500 – 1000mg of the beneficial flavanols.
As a rule of thumb, choose dark chocolates that are at least 75% cocoa, but higher percentages will have more pure cocoa, and thus will give you more bang for your calorie, nutritionally-speaking. Cacao has an incredible array of healthful compounds that help improve blood flow, antioxidant status, and have been shown to improve issues like depression, cognitive function in the elderly, cardiovascular health, and even learning.
The key thing here is that just because certain components of chocolate maybe good for your health, that doesn’t mean you should overdo it on the candy bars. Cacao benefits are substantial but moderation is the key. Stick with dark chocolate and shoot for 25 – 40 grams per day, or ~ 200 calories worth. That should be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth without overdoing it on the calories, and over time, it might just maintain, or even improve your health.