6 Science-Backed Benefits of Cacao and Keto Zone Hot Chocolate

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.

Cacao Recipe: Keto Zone Hot Chocolate (click here for recipe)

Nutrition Info: 260 calories, 5  gm net carbs, 8 gm fiber, 18 gm protein

6 Science-Backed Benefits of Cacao

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:

1.  Cacao Improves Brain Function and Reduces Stress

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.

There’s more.

2. Cacao Supports Heart Health and Reduces Inflammation

It starts with nitric oxide. When it increases artery dilation and blood flow, it reduces blood pressure especially in older adults and those with hypertension (3, 4).

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.

3. Cacao Reduces Fatigue and May Fight Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

In addition to a small amount of caffeine, cacao delivers anti-fatigue nutrients. These include:

  • Iron. Cacao is high in absorbable iron, which increases oxygen delivery to the cells.
  • Magnesium. One serving of cacao provides 100 mg of magnesium, ~25% of daily needs. Magnesium is typically deficient in adults. Adequate magnesium is associated with better energy, better sleep, fewer muscle cramps (including night cramps), and better overall health.
  • Nitric Oxide (NO). When cacao’s flavanols increase NO, they help the body deliver and use oxygen better in the cells, decreasing fatigue.

A small study from London showed a decrease in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms after 8 weeks of cacao treatment (7).

4. Cacao Improves Insulin Sensitivity

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:

  • Slow down carbohydrate digestion and absorption in the gut
  • Improve insulin secretion
  • Stimulate the uptake of sugar out of the blood into the muscle (8)
  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes (8)

5. Cacao Potentially Fights Cancer

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.

6. Cacao Reduces Free Radical Damage

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)!

Bottom Line

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.

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