Authored by Malcolm Tatum in Nutrition
Published on 01-23-2010
Powder made from the beans harvested from the cacao tree has become extremely popular with a lot of people, especially chocolate lovers. Essential to the creation of dark chocolate, cacao not only provides a pleasing taste, but is also the source of some of what your body and mind needs to be healthy. If you love chocolate, but want to also do something good for yourself, here is what you need to know about the health benefits of cacao.
One of the most important of the health benefits associated with cacao is the fact that it can help with high blood pressure. There are several ingredients in cacao that help with this function. The bean contains a substance known as N-acylethanolamine, which promotes the release of neurotransmitters that help to calm jangled nerves and relieve stress. By eliminating two of the main causes of high blood pressure, cacao makes it much easier to deal with situations that normally cause a lot of frustration, and reduce the chances of an unhealthy increase in blood pressure during these situations.
Cacao also contains several antioxidants that help with lowering the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol, while at the same time promoting the elevation of HDL or good cholesterol in the bloodstream. This attribute means that a moderate amount of dark chocolate consumption, taking care to eat chocolate with a higher percentage of cacao content, can actually help reduce the chances of developing some type of heart disease. When coupled with the ability of the cacao to aid in reducing blood pressure, this promotion of more balanced cholesterol levels greatly enhances the possibility of enjoying good cardiovascular health well into the later years of life.
These same antioxidants can also trigger the release of neurotransmitters that help to ward off minor anxiety and depression. That same N-acylethanolamine that helps to lower the blood pressure also helps make it easier to maintain a balanced mood and move past a case of the blues. Many people have experienced the feeling of slight euphoria that takes place when enjoying a small amount of dark chocolate. For people dealing with anxiety and depression, a little dark chocolate now and then can augment the function of medications prescribed to help with these conditions.
Even people who live with type 2 diabetes may find that consuming dark chocolate with a higher cacao content is kinder to blood sugar levels than consuming milk chocolate. This is because the elements found in cacao have a positive effect on the production of insulin, helping the body to process glucose in the bloodstream more efficiently. While dark chocolate does trigger a spike in blood sugar levels, that spike is usually lower than the spike caused by the consumption of sweets containing simple carbohydrates. It also takes less time for blood sugar levels to sink back into a normal range than with milk chocolate and similar treats.
While this benefit is still being studied, there are some in the medical community that believe a modest consumption of cacao can help to minimize the impact of Alzheimer’s disease. The theory usually focuses on the ingredients that tend to promote a balanced mood, with some speculation that these same ingredients also have a beneficial effect on memory and cognition. Most healthcare professionals agree that more research is needed before cacao can definitely be identified as being helpful with Alzheimer’s disease, but the studies so far are somewhat encouraging.
It is important to note that while cacao does contain antioxidants and other elements that are good for the body, that does not mean that dark chocolate should be consumed in large amounts. Enjoying a moderate amount from time to time is fine, but excess consumption will still provide the body with additional calories, as well as more carbohydrates that most people require. For this reason, only allow yourself to enjoy products with cacao now and then, and keep the portions within reason.