Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Are you a chocoholic? Good news for you!

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cacao_med_res_1_1      lsf011-live-superfoods-ecuadorian-cacao-nibs-16oz_1            lsf046-live-superfoods-balinese-cacao-powder-16oz_1

Cacao Bean                            Unprocessed cacao nibs                      cocoa powder

Although this column comes a week after Easter and Passover, it may not have pertained to chocolate Easter bunnies or chocolate covered matzah. Yup, I love chocolate too. Unfortunately, my tastes run to milk chocolate, hot chocolate, and chocolate chip cookies which contain the type that is not necessarily good for you. Recent studies have confirmed that chocolate which contains at least 70% cacao aids digestion, can help reduce inflammation in your gut, reduces cholesterol, and has a positive effect on cardiac health. One of the reasons dark chocolate is good for you is that it is largely undigestible.

In a recent study, a simulated “stomach” and “small intestine” broke down and absorbed some of the cocoa. Many of the flavonols previously identified in chocolate were digested in this way, but there was still plenty of undigested cocoa matter. Gut bacteria in the simulated colon then broke that down further into metabolites, small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and known to reduce cardiac inflammation. Finally, the last undigested cocoa matter, now mostly fiber, began to ferment, releasing substances that improve cholesterol levels. And there was another health-giving twist to this entire process: The gut microbes that digested the cocoa were desirable probiotics like lactobacillus. Their numbers appeared to increase after the introduction of the cocoa, while less-salutary microbes like staphylococcus declined in number. For the full report, go to:

With all the new research about the beneficial effects of probiotics contained in fermented foods and greek yogurt, it’s nice to know that  cocoa digestion can produce these beneficial microbes. A major caveat of this news is the chocolate we Americans are accustomed to eating, or which played a large role in our childhood- candy bars, our Halloween bounty, hot fudge, Hershey kisses, fudgesicles, etc, aren’t the type that are beneficial for us. It must be at least 70% cacao, and a higher percentage is even better. A good way to include it in your diet is to buy cacao nibs or unsweetened cocoa powder and add it to foods you already eat as part of your diet. It would make a good addition to oatmeal, milk, granola, fruit desserts- you name it!

There are a slew of health benefits of cacao nibs, and although the website below is largely a retail site, cross-references with many other articles confirm the benefits below:

Antioxidants: Cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids than any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and black and green teas. In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea. Health benefits of these antioxidants include:

  • • Promote cardiovascular health – Help dilate bloods vessels, reduce blood clotting, improve circulation, help regulate heartbeat and blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
  • • Protect from environmental and metabolic toxins – Help repair and resist damage caused by free radicals, and may reduce risk of certain cancers.

Neurotransmitters: By increasing the levels of specific neurotransmitters in our brains, cacao promotes positive outlook, facilitates rejuvenation and simply helps us feel good.

  • • Serotonin – Cacao raises the level of serotonin in the brain; thus acts as an anti-depressant, helps reduce PMS symptoms, and promotes a sense of well-being.
  • • Endorphins – Cacao stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasurable sensation similar to the “runner’s high” a jogger feels after running several miles.
  • • Phenylethylamine – Found in chocolate, phenylethylamine is also created within the brain and released when we are in love. Acts as mild mood elevator and anti-depressant, and helps increase focus and alertness.
  • • Anandamide – Anandamide is known as the “bliss chemical” because it is released by the brain when we are feeling great. Cacao contains both N-acylethanolamines, believed to temporarily increase the levels of anandamide in the brain, and enzyme inhibitors that slow its breakdown. Promotes relaxation, and helps us feel good longer.

Essential Minerals: Cacao beans are rich in a number of essential minerals, including magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese.

  • • Magnesium – Cacao seems to be the #1 source of magnesium of any food. Magnesium balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones, and helps regulate heartbeat and blood pressure. Magnesium deficiency, present in 80% of Americans, is linked with PMT, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and joint problems.
  • • Sulfur – Cacao is high in the beauty mineral sulfur. Sulfur builds strong nails and hair, promotes beautiful skin, detoxifies the liver, and supports healthy pancreas functioning.

Essential fats: There is a misperception that chocolate is fattening. In truth, the fats in cocoa butter are healthy fats. Cacao contains oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, also found in olive oil, that may raise good cholesterol. Also, substances found in cacao are known to help reduce appetite.

For more information about cacao nibs and where to find them, go to this website.

It appears that chocolate has been labeled “food of the gods” for good reason !


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