Over the past dozen of years or so, a steady stream of science has emerged, showing that cocoa possess extraordinary life-imbuing and disease-fighting properties. Most notably, cocoa demonstrates significant benefits for the cardiovascular system, helping to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, reduce the risk of high blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of cancer.
Cocoa contains over 700 known compounds. And for all we know, there may be many more that remain undiscovered. Of particular interest to scientists are the antioxidant compounds in cocoa. Antioxidants are compounds that plants manufacture to prevent their own cells from premature destruction due to exposure to heat, light, air, moisture and time. In the human body, many of these compounds prevent reactive oxygen species (ROS) from destroying cells and causing premature aging and disease. Cocoa is especially rich in polyphenols, a group of protective antioxidant compounds found in many plant foods such as red wine and tea. Yet, of all foods, cocoa has the highest antioxidant polyphenol content, and provides the greatest cardio-protection.
Cardiovascular disease is the primary killer of adults. The polyphenols in cocoa are cardio-protective in two ways. They help to reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or so-called ‘bad cholesterol.” Oxidation of LDL is considered a major factor in the promotion of coronary disease, most notably heart attack and stroke. Additionally, polyphenols inhibit blood platelets from clumping together. This clumping process, called aggregation, leads to atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries. By inhibiting aggregation, polyphenols reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Another dimension of the benefits of cocoa and chocolate consumption concerns mood. Cocoa is rich in agents that enhance the production of various feel-good chemicals in the brain, notably serotonin and dopamine. This means that cocoa possesses anti-depressant, mood-elevating properties. This is no surprise to the any millions of people who self medicate with chocolate every day.
Of the mood-modifying compounds in cocoa, one is PEA, or phenethylamine. This chemical, which occurs in chocolate in small quantities, stimulates the nervous system and triggers the release of pleasurable opium-like compounds known as endorphins. It also potentiates the activity of dopamine, a neurochemical directly associated with sexual arousal and pleasure. Phenethylamine increases in the brain when we fall in love, and during orgasm. The giddy, restless feelings that occur when we are in love are at least partly due to PEA. This adds a rather remarkable dimension to cocoa, and may account for why it is so highly prized. For while there are a great many agents in nature which boost libido and enhance sexual function, (High Libido Diet) chocolate alone actually promotes the brain chemistry of being in love. Chocolate is the gift of lovers for this very reason.
Cocoa additionally boosts a sense of well being by increasing brain levels of serotonin, the so-called feel-good brain chemical. For this reason cocoa provides a highly desirable mood boost to women during PMS and menstruation, when serotonin levels are often down. In fact, women are consistently more sensitive to cocoa than men. Women typically experience stronger cocoa cravings than men. And for many, cocoa is the perfect PMS prescription. A little cocoa can restore a feeling of well being.
The one thing that hinders chocolate from being a great super food is all the sugar we put with it. It is best to make your own using raw, organic honey. But if the craving hits and you need something convenient and cocoa nibs are not a choice go for Green and Black's 85% organic dark chocolate that is made with organic cane sugar.