Chocolate lovers rejoice!
You can enjoy cacao (the raw form of chocolate) and stay in the keto zone.
In fact, beyond enjoyment, you can flood your body with benefits of cacao, including antioxidants, improved heart and brain function, and reduced inflammation. Sounds sweet, right?
Here is our Keto Zone Hot Chocolate recipe and 6 Science-Backed Benefits of Cacao.
Nutrition Info: 260 calories, 5 gm net carbs, 8 gm fiber, 18 gm protein
First, let’s get through the spelling: cacao vs. cocoa.
The names are often used interchangeably. However, cacao is processed differently, and this makes all the difference in health.
Raw cacao is made from fermented, dried, and unroasted cacao beans. Cocoa beans are roasted at high heat, damaging some of the living nutrient components and reducing the flavanols by up to 60%. (1).
Choose raw, and get these benefits of cacao:
Let’s start here.
Cacao contains health-benefitting compounds called flavanols. They cross the blood-brain barrier to affect brain health and mood (2).
One flavanol is phenethylamine (PEA). It has natural pain- and stress-reducing properties. It also increases endorphins to improve focus.
What’s more, cacao improves mood by raising serotonin levels and contains theobromine, a mild stimulant sometimes used in the treatment of depression.
Increased blood flow results in improved brain health. Cacao’s flavanols increase blood levels of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates arteries and improves blood flow.
One study of older adults showed an increase of 10% brain blood flow with cacao. Other studies show improved blood flow and cognition in those with and without a deficit, indicating a potential use for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
What’s more, cacao may reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. One review of over 157,000 people showed that higher chocolate consumption was associated with a significantly lower risk of heart disease, stroke and death (5).
Reducing inflammation is also important for heart health. Cacao’s flavanols reduce proinflammatory cytokines while increasing anti-inflammatory ones (6).
Lastly, cocoa may reduce bad LDL cholesterol and has a blood thinning effect similar to aspirin.
In addition to a small amount of caffeine, cacao delivers anti-fatigue nutrients. These include:
A small study from London showed a decrease in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms after 8 weeks of cacao treatment (7).
When cells are more sensitive to insulin, they are healthier. They deal with carbohydrates better, require less insulin to store them, and store less fat.
The flavanols improve insulin sensitivity, and they:
Individual components of cacao have been shown to induce cancer cell death and prevent the spread of cancer cells in test tube studies (9).
In animal studies, scientists have reduced breast, pancreatic, prostate, liver and colon cancer, and leukemia with cacao components (9).
The human studies are promising but general. Flavanol-rich diets may decrease cancer risk.
Sure, free radical damage sounds bad. But what is it and what causes it?
Unfortunately, most everything around you can cause it.
In fact, sun exposure, cigarette smoke, toxic chemicals in the environment and foods, pollution, and even some of our own body’s biochemical reactions can cause free radical damage and its accumulated oxidative stress.
When we consume antioxidants, we consume compounds that neutralize free radicals and work to heal cells.
Cacao has more than 300 different antioxidant chemical compounds and more than 20 times the antioxidant power of blueberries. And while other foods antioxidants diminish with time, cacao has demonstrated stability in samples over 75 years old (10)!
Not bad for a little hot chocolate, right? Choose raw cacao this winter and enjoy all the benefits of cacao plus a delicious keto zone favorite drink.