The Health Benefits of Chocolate

WARNING: This blog entry may result in side effects, including: uncontrollable chocolate craving, increased heart rate and excessive drooling.

Now that raw vegan organic chocolate truffles are available at our retail site, myEARTH360.com, I thought it would be a perfect time to discuss the health benefits of chocolate! But first, a bit (or a bite!) of information about these fine chocolates by Cru Cacao.

Fusing passion with health for you and the planet!
The talented husband/wife chocolatier team–Dereme Church and Blazej Mikulicz–handmakes their artisanal truffles using only the finest organic, fair trade, sustainable, vegan, and raw ingredients.

  • The raw cacao, organically and sustainably grown in  Ecuador, is of the Fina de Aroma Arribe Nacional variety.
  • Organically grown herbs, flowers, and spices, which are air, sundried, or low temperature dehydrated (at less than one hundred and eighteen degrees Farenheit). These, along with the fruits used, are zested, ground, mixed, and powdered in-house.
  • Seeds and nuts that are soaked and sprouted to deactivate enzyme inhibitors, increasing digestibility and assimilation of nutrients.
  • Nut butters that are made in house, ensuring the utmost quality and freshness.
  • Small amounts of Young Living essential oils.
  • Blue agave nectar for sweetening

To your health.
You’ve probably heard that chocolate (in moderation, of course) can actually promote good health. Here’s a run down of the ingredients used in Cru Cacao truffles…

It starts with cacao…
Cacao, or the cocoa plant, contains a number of compounds which are believed to improve mood by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the brain. contains small amounts of anandamide, as well as greater amounts of the structurally related compounds N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine. The amount of anandamide present in cacao may be too small to directly account for the mood-improving properties of cacao. However, it is thought that the anandamide analogs N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine act synergistically by inhibiting the enzymes which break down anandamide naturally produced in the brain, resulting in a net increase in the amount of anandamine in the brain and consequent good feelings. Unlike smoking marijuana, stimulation of the cannabinoid system by cacao is triggered by an increase of anandamide, the body’s natural cannabinoid receptor ligand, not a foreign compound such as THC, resulting in a more “natural” and even boost to one’s mood. The second mechanism by which cacao improves one’s mood is by stimulating the release of endorphins. Endorphins are compounds produced naturally by the body which relieve pain and produce feelings of well-being. Animal studies have shown that repeated consumption of energy-dense cacao-containing foods such as chocolate stimulate the release of endorphins.

Antioxidants and Phytonutrients. Cacao is extremely rich in natural antioxidant compounds, containing as much as 10% antioxidant compounds by weight. Cacao contains high concentrations of flavanoids, primarily in the form of procyanidins, which consist of polymers of (+)-catechin and (-)-epicatechin. Cacao is possibly the most anti-oxidant rich food known, and has been shown to contain higher levels of antioxidant compounds than red wine, blueberries, acai berries, or green tea. Additionally, cacao flavanoids are present in a more bioavailable form than those present in many other antioxidant rich foods. Processing can affect the antioxidant content of cacao. Raw cacao powder contains higher levels of flavinoids than milk chocolate, dark chocolate, unsweetened baking chocolate, or Dutched cocoa powder.

Cacao flavanoids have several important biological properties. Principal among these is the ability to act as an antioxidant by scavenging superoxide and hydroxyl radicals, reducing lipid peroxyl radicals, and inhibiting lipid peroxidation. One effect of this antioxidant activity is to suppress the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), a key event in the development of the formation of arterial plaques. The formation of arterial plaques leads to atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammation of the arteries which is considered the most important underlying cause of strokes, heart attacks, various heart diseases including congestive heart failure, and most cardiovascular diseases in general. Furthermore, cacao flavanoids induce nitric-oxide-dependent vasodilation, reducing blood pressure, a risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases, and increasing blood flow to the brain. In addition to their numerous benefits to cardiovascular health, flavanoids from cacao have also been shown to have general anti-inflammatory effects and to inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells. Cacao flavanoids also improve skin health by increasing circulation, improving hydration, reducing scaling and roughness, and protecting against UV-induced damage. In addition to flavanoids, cacao also contains reservatrol, a polyphenolic compound which is found in red wine and has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, anti-viral, and anti-aging properties.

Heart-Healthy Fats The cacao bean contains approximately 40-50% fat, which can be separated from the dark chocolate solids to give cacao butter. Cacao butter triglycerides (fats) are primarily composed of three fatty acids: approximately 33% oleic acid , 33% stearic acid , and 25% palmitic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid also found in high concentrations in olive oil, grapeseed oil, and avocados. Oleic acid consumption has numerous health benefits, including reduction of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels, leading to a reduced risk of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and stroke. Oleic acid has also been shown to block the action of a cancer-causing oncogene associated with about 30% of breast cancers. Stearic acid is one of the healthiest saturated fatty acids, possibly due to the fact that it is readily converted to oleic acid by the liver. Unlike other saturated fatty acids, consumption of stearic acid is not associated with increased LDL levels or increased risk of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, or heart disease. Consumption of dark chocolate, which contains high levels of cardioprotective cacao flavanoids, has been shown to reduce LDL and total cholesterol while boosting HDL. Even consumption of white chocolate, which contains only cacao butter and no cacao flavanoids, has been shown not to increase total cholesterol or LDL.

Mild Natural Stimulant Cacao is a mild natural stimulant. It contains theobromine, a methylxanthine alkaloid closely related to caffeine. As compared to caffeine, theobromine is a milder, longer-acting stimulant, which does not cause some of the negative effects associated with caffeine such as increased anxiety and physical withdrawal symptoms after regular consumption. Cacao also contains caffeine, but in extremely small amounts – one ounce of cacao powder contains less caffeine than a cup of decaffeinated coffee.

Blue Agave NectarA Natural Low Glycemic Index Sweetener. When consumed, all foods elicit a metabolic response. Sugars released into the blood must be burned as fuel, stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue, or if the liver and muscle tissues are already saturated with glycogen, converted to triglycerides and stored in adipose (fat) tissue. These processes are mediated by insulin, a hormone which is secreted by the pancreas in response to high blood glucose levels and induces the storage of sugars. This energy storage system originally evolved to conserve energy in times of food scarcity, and is poorly adapted to the high levels of fast-releasing sugars found in modern diets. Overstimulation of the insulin response can lead to several adverse effects. If liver and muscle glycogen stores are not depleted, such as in a person who overeats and does not exercise regularly, sugars will be stored as fat, leading to obesity. Over time, a person can become insulin resistant, wherein muscle and adipose tissues become desensitized to elevated insulin levels, causing the secretion of ever-higher levels of insulin in order to clear sugar from the blood. Over time, if the pancreas can no longer keep up with the demand for insulin, this process can lead to chronic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome X.

With respect to promoting healthy blood sugar levels, not all sweeteners are created equal. This is particularly apparent when one understands that dietary carbohydrates are primarily composed of two monosaccharides: glucose and fructose. For example, sucrose, the most common food sweetener (usually in the form of refined cane sugar and commonly used in chocolates), is a disaccharide composed of one molecule each of fructose and glucose. Honey is a mixture of approximately 40% fructose and 30% glucose. Blue agave nectar, used in Cru Cacao’s chocolates, consists of approximately 90% fructose and 10% glucose.

Fructose is metabolized by a different pathway than glucose and has a smaller effect on insulin production. Furthermore, fructose is 75% sweeter than sucrose, and more than twice as sweet as glucose, so fewer calories need to be consumed to achieve the same sweetening effect. According to glycemic index testing, blue agave nectar, with a measured glycemic index of 27, has a much smaller impact on blood glucose levels than other natural sweeteners, such as sucrose (glycemic index of 92) and honey (glycemic index of 83). Therefore, for people such as dieters or diabetics who are concerned about blood sugar, foods prepared with blue agave nectar are an excellent dietary choice.

Read the past I Count for myEARTH blog entry regarding another bad news sweetener: Watch Out for High Fructose Corn Syrup in “Healthy” Foods.

If you’re feeling one or more of the previously stated side effects, why not order a selection Cru Cacao truffles?!

Enjoy the day

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