Who ever would have thought eating raw cacao could be good for you?
As it's National Chocolate Day today, we ask our nutritionist Cassandra Barns about the benefits of raw cacao and why you should be eating it!
It's good for your heart
"Raw cacao is high in flavanols - plant compounds associated with antioxidant activity. The flavanols in cacao are thought to help improve circulation to the heart1, and may reduce risk of heart disease by helping to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, reduce blood stickiness and even improve cholesterol levels!2,3 Flavanol levels can be greatly reduced when cacao is roasted to make conventional chocolate. Cacao is also rich in potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure, and magnesium, which is vital for muscle function (our heart is our most important muscle!)"
It's a natural energy booster
"Cacao contains a small amount of caffeine, as well as a compound called theobromine, which has a mild stimulating and energising effect. So having a few pieces of raw chocolate can be a great afternoon pick-me-up without the over-stimulation and jittery feeling you can get from coffee. But what makes cacao the real energy superstar is its high magnesium content: magnesium is essential for your body to make energy, and many of us don't get enough of it in our daily diet. What's more, whereas standard chocolate bars can be high in refined sugar that's quickly absorbed. When chosing chocolate, Ombar (www.ombar.co.uk) contains smaller amounts of unrefined coconut sugar, providing slow-releasing, sustained energy without the sugar rush."
It's good for your skin!
If you're still on the fence about the benefits of raw cacao, then consider this.
"Eating flavanol-rich chocolate has been found to help protect our skin against sun damage, as well as improve circulation to the skin, increase skin hydration, and reduce roughness and scaling.4,5 Who would have thought it - eating chocolate could help you keep your youthful looks (but choose raw for the greatest benefits)!"
It supports your fitness goals
"The natural energising effect of raw chocolate can be great for a pre-workout boost. The magnesium it contains supports muscle function, aids electrolyte balance and may be beneficial for muscle recovery too. What's more, the flavanols in chocolate can have an anti-inflammatory effect, which could help to reduce inflammation and support recovery after a workout."
It makes you happy
"Cacao contains several active substances that may have a positive effect on our mood. One of these is phenylethylamine (PEA) - a natural compound that's made in our brain. PEA is associated with good mood, and is said to be released in high amounts when we're in love! Cacao is also rich in minerals such as magnesium and zinc, which help to produce other 'feel-good' brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine"
References1. Shiina Y et al. Acute effect of oral flavonoid-rich dark chocolate intake on coronary circulation, as compared with non-flavonoid white chocolate, by transthoracic Doppler echocardiography in healthy adults. Int J Cardiol. 2009 Jan 24;131(3):424-9.
2. Ding EL et al. Chocolate and prevention of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006 Jan 3;3:2.
3. Arranz S et al. Cardioprotective effects of cocoa: clinical evidence from randomized clinical intervention trials in humans. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Jun;57(6):936-47.
4. Williams S et al. Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2009 Sep;8(3):169-73.
5. Heinrich U et al. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. 2006 Jun;136(6):1565-9.
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