Cacao- 9 Reasons To Go For It, Often!!

We all know how healthy a plant-based diet is, right? Well that’s where chocolate fits in. The cocoa found in chocolate originates from the cacao tree and is (yes!) thus a plant-based food. And more and more researchers are describing all kinds of health benefits that we get from consuming the ingredients in chocolate. 

For example, as far back as 1993 Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton of Pennsylvania State University published an article in Metabolism about stearic acid, the main saturated fatty acid in chocolate. She found that, unlike other fatty acids, the one in chocolate does not raise blood cholesterol levels. In fact, eating a 1.4-ounce chocolate bar was found to increase levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol).

Dr. Scott Grundy, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Texas, agrees. He has said, “Our research has shown that stearic acid simply doesn’t increase the cholesterol level in blood the same way that other types of saturated fats do.” (“Effects of Fats High in Stearic Acid on Lipid and Lipoprotein Concentrations in Men” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 54, 1036-1040.)

Another chemical found in cocoa (as well as in sweet peppers and Chinese wolfberry) has been shown to be helpful in preventing blood clots. This chemical has the long-winded name of N-caffeoyldopamine. Dr. Jae Park, writing in Agricultural Research (January 2006, 54:1), demonstrated how this chemical suppresses the mechanism by which blood platelets stick to blood vessel walls. When nasty things build up on the walls, plaque develops. Plaque build-up can obstruct arteries and lead to blood clotting, which in turn leads to strokes. But the magic ingredient in cocoa stops the sticking. It’s natural anti-glue!

Yet another nutritional benefit of chocolate comes from its antioxidant ingredients called flavonoids. Antioxidants in the blood stream mop up substances called free radicals, small molecules that cause damage to the body. Scientists believe these may be the triggers for serious diseases such as cancer and heart   disease, and the cognitive deterioration that comes with aging. It’s looking like chocolate can zap the free radicals out of the ballgame.

The quality and quantity of the antioxidants in dark chocolate are very high relative to other common foods. Dark chocolate contains about 8 times more antioxidants than strawberries, which happen to rank high among fruits. (Antioxidants are also found in other fruits, vegetables, green tea, and red wine.)

Beginning in 1996, Dr. A.L. Waterhouse showed that cocoa powder and chocolate contain a relatively high amount of phenolic compounds which possess antioxidant properties that are beneficial in reducing the risk for coronary heart disease. (“Antioxidants in Chocolate” Lancet Sept.1996; 348[1]:834). Then other scientists jumped on the bandwagon.

The title of this scientific article says it all: “The Emerging Role of Flavonoid-Rich Cocoa and Chocolate in Cardiovascular Health and Disease” by Dr. Mary B. Engler, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 74, No. 5, 596-602 (November 2001). This author also published an article called “The Vasculoprotective Effects of Flavonoid-Rich Cocoa and Chocolate” (Nutrition Research, Volume 24, Issue 9, 695-706).

Another group of scientists makes the point that it is dark chocolate--rather than milk chocolate--which causes good things to happen inside your body. Here is how the Italian scientists Mauro Serafini, Rossana Bugianesi, Giuseppe Maiani, Silvia Valtuena, Simone De Santis & Alan Crozier summarize their research in Nature 424, 1013 (28 August 2003):

“Dark chocolate may offer its consumers health benefits the milk variety cannot match. Here we show that consumption of plain, dark chocolate results in an increase in both the total antioxidant capacity and the epicatechin content of blood plasma, but that these effects are markedly reduced when the chocolate is consumed with milk or if milk is incorporated as milk chocolate. Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate in vivo and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.”

Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, came to the same conclusion. He studied patients with hypertension. Half of the people in the study ate a daily 3.5-ounce bar of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate, while the other half ate the same amount of white chocolate which has no flavonoids but does contain all the other ingredients and calories of dark chocolate. Blumberg found a statistically significant drop in blood pressure in the dark chocolate group. His research was published in Hypertension 46(2):398-405.

And check out this study, which proves the benefits of chocolate again, with the conclusion “that
cocoa-containing foods improve endothelial function and reduce blood pressure” (“Cocoa Intake, Blood Pressure, and Cardiovascular Mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study,” by B. Buijsse, E.J. Feskens, F.J. Kok, and D. Kromhout., Arch. Intern. Med. 2006 Feb 27; 166[4]: 411-417.)

So, all these good things come from the nutritional components of chocolate! What about the bad things? Like me, you’ve probably heard urban legends that chocolate leads to acne, allergies, migraine headaches, hyperactivity, dental cavities, and more. Untrue! Many studies have been done with the result that chocolate is off the hook.

For example, Dr. Dawn Marcus of University of Pittsburgh wanted to test the link between chocolate and migraine headaches. She thought there might be a connection because there was a theory out there that headaches can be triggered by the vasocative amines in foods such as hard cheeses, peanuts, meat, alcohol, and yes, chocolate. But, as she reported in “A Double-Blind Provocative Study of Chocolate as a Trigger of Headache” Cephalalgia 17(8): 855-62 [Dec 1997], it turned out that eating chocolate had no role in causing headaches. 

Another common myth about chocolate is that it is high in caffeine. Not true again! The amount of caffeine in a typical 1.4-ounce chocolate bar is about equivalent to that found in a cup of decaffeinated coffee. I said DECAF coffee!

So eat on, chocolate-lovers. You’re doing your body a world of good.


Your ChocoBlogista

Who is the woman behind these ChocoBlog posts? It is I, Sarah Gross. I’m assistant Manager at Gnosis (looooooving it!) and have been with the company since December 2008.

I am a classically trained ballet dancer, Pilates instructor, freelance photographer, and vegan of 10 years!

My chocolate interest bloomed two years ago as I set out to taste every non-dairy (read: vegan) chocolate out there. It seemed like a simple, achievable task, I didn’t think it would last long as a hobby (all of the wrappers are collected in albums). But after all of this time, averaging one or two new bars a week, I’m finding there are endless chocolates to be discovered (makes the thought of going vegan a little less daunting, no?!).

So that’s how I developed my palate for good chocolate and how I lucked into finding a position at Gnosis. I knew from first Gnosis bite, I was in love. As a person who knows what good chocolate tastes like, this is no small praise! With such pure ingredients and an end-product this fresh, there’s no way Gnosis can go wrong. Oh yeah, and I taste the “Love!” listed in the ingredients of each bar.

What else do I do at Gnosis? Beside chocoblogging (making up new words is fun!), I send out press releases, experiment with flavors (the limited edition Fleur de Sel is my creation, I hope you’ve tried and loved it!), among many other things.

If you live in the New York City area, I’d love to introduce you to Pilates. I teach privates and duets, on the machines and on the mat. This is my personal website and of course, the perfect fuel to a workout, especially an intense one like I give, is chocolate! As my favorite quote goes, "Energy is an eternal delight"