For the Best News During the Pandemic Read On.
By Aimee Rein
Naturally occurring compounds in cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate fights a myriad of viruses including influenza. Consuming cocoa can have a positive impact on our immune system. In fact, research has proven that a diet rich in cocoa enhances specific immune fighting cells and leads to the formation of systemic antibodies, helping balance the intestinal gut flora, which is essential for a primed immune response.
Chocolate is derived from cacao beans that are harvested and then go through several processing steps to produce chocolate products. Cacao, the raw form of cacao shares the superfood label with fan favorites blueberries and sardines. There are many natural compounds in cacao such as flavonoids, polyphenols, alkaloids and resveratrol, which have potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects that strengthen the immune system.
Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants found in cacao. Studies have shown that because of anthocyanins, cacao possesses strong antiviral activity against influenza A, B and the avian flu viruses. Anthocyanins have the ability to scavenge and neutralize free radicals that are produced during the course of an infection.
In addition to bolstering the immune system’s functionality and defenses, cacao may also enhance the efficacy of vaccination for some viruses. One clinical trial concluded that drinking cocoa provides stronger protection against influenza, virus infection, and disease onset. So while a vaccine for COVID-19 is still in the works, it seems that a little bit of our favorite food may amplify the efficacy of the vaccine once it becomes available.
Cacao vs. Cocoa. What’s the difference?
Use of “cacao” versus “cocoa” on chocolate products is inconsistent. Generally, raw cacao products are minimally processed and are the purest form of chocolate. Raw cacao powder that has not been roasted or processed has the highest levels of flavanols. Cocoa is the term used for cacao that has been roasted at a high temperature, which lowers the antioxidant capacity and reduces the nutrient density that is found in raw cacao. Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to cocoa. Still, high-quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa is a good source of beneficial antioxidants and minerals.
The exact amount of cacao or cocoa you should include in your diet to achieve health benefits is not entirely clear, but it appears that moderate chocolate consumption – about 45 grams per week (which is about the size of an average chocolate bar) of chocolate with a 70% or higher total cacao content is ideal. Higher-percentage dark chocolate contains a higher concentration of antioxidants and nutrients compared to chocolate with a lower cacao percentage.
What To Look For When Buying Chocolate
Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to cocoa. It is incredibly healthy and nutritious if eaten in moderation. It has even been shown to have a greater antioxidant effect than many high-antioxidant fruits, like blueberries and acai berries! So how do you choose? The simplest way is to choose dark chocolate that has a 70% or higher total cacao or cocoa content. It is best to choose cacao, cocoa, and dark chocolate, in any form made with as few ingredients as possible.
The best dark chocolate always has cacao, cocoa, or chocolate liquor listed as the first ingredient. There may be several forms listed such as cocoa powder, nibs, and butter. All are acceptable additions to dark chocolate.
Choose one that lists sugar last or not at all. The higher the cocoa percentage, the lower the sugar content will be. High-quality dark chocolate should not have any milk added to it.
Avoid brands made with trans fats by checking the ingredients and if hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil is present, that means it contains trans fat, which increases inflammation.
Also, avoid alkalized or Dutched dark chocolate because the process has negative effects on the antioxidants’ content in chocolate.
Choose fair-trade and organic chocolate whenever possible as it supports cacao farmers and may reduce your exposure to any artificial chemicals, or pesticides sprayed on the beans.
How to Cook with Cacao
Cacao powder and nibs are the most versatile types of cacao to use. Blend them in smoothies for added texture, scatter on your morning bowl of oatmeal, or use to top your fruit, yogurt, and granola. Terrain Health has some delicious recipes incorporating cacao powder (we especially love Navitas Organics Cacao Powder and Nibs) where 2 tablespoons have over 900 mg of flavonoids per serving!
Brands We Love
There are so many brands of delicious high-quality dark chocolate to choose from! Feel free to nibble on a couple of squares per day of the greatest invention on the planet! It will reduce stress, improve your mood, memory, and immunity! And remember, the more cacao the bar has, the better it is for you!
Green & Black
Bixby & Co. Dark Chocolate
Pacari Organic Chocolate
Lily’s Dark Chocolate sweetened with Stevia
ChocZero which is sweetened with Monk Fruit extract
Ghirardelli Intense Dark