Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food and a luxury accessible to many. The secret to this mouth-watering delight is the simple cocoa or cacao beans, the seeds of the Theobroma cacao, or the cacao tree. The higher the cocoa percentage in chocolate, the healthier it is. This is because cocoa is an incredible source of powerful antioxidants that boast astounding benefits on the cardiovascular and nervous systems in particular. It can also be used externally on the skin and has a rejuvenating and repairing effect, improving its aspect.
Numerous studies confirm that people who eat cocoa or dark chocolate (the variety with the highest percentage of cocoa) on a regular basis not only live longer and look much younger than their real biological age, but are also happier and healthier in the sense that they are significantly less likely to develop chronic diseases such as cancer, obesity, depression or degenerative neurological or neuromuscular disorders. It is believed the antioxidant compounds found in cocoa are responsible for such long-term health benefits on both physical and mental health.
Where does chocolate come from? What do cocoa trees and beans look like? The cocoa tree produces beautiful, elongated, brightly-colored pods with deep creases, ranging in color from green and lemon-yellow to bright orange and red-violet. Each color is indicative of a different ripening stage. When cacao pods turn bright orange, they are the ripest. Even so, they are a genuine delight to the eyes. But instead of growing on the branches, cocoa pods grow on the trunk of the tree, which makes for a somewhat peculiar image for anyone who sees them for the first time. Each pod may contain somewhere between 20-50 seeds, covered by a sticky flesh.
Cocoa seeds are not chocolate-brown, but white, mushy, buttery beans which turn a deep, beautiful red-brown when left to dry. However, few varieties of cocoa beans remain white even after drying. Update: Recently, a new cocoa bean variety has been discovered and a new type of chocolate made from it. The pink cocoa bean, also called the ruby cocoa bean, yields a pink chocolate with cocoa and delicate berry flavors.
Regular cocoa consumption is highly beneficial for one’s health. Cocoa powder and its most famous byproduct, chocolate, are surprisingly beneficial for our heart and brain in particular. Most of the health benefits of cocoa butter and cocoa solids derive from the incredible antioxidant content of the beans. Here are 5 reasons why cocoa and (dark) chocolate are good for you:
1) Natural antidepressant: Eating cocoa or dark chocolate regularly has been suggested to have the same effect as taking antidepressant medication. Cocoa stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters which help regulate mood. Both dopamine and serotonin generate positive feelings such as happiness, calm, joy, a feeling of wellbeing, relief, optimism and increase sleep quality.
2) Regulates appetite: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter synthesized by tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Eating starchy or sweet foods (carbohydrates basically) such as cocoa produces tryptophan which is then converted into serotonin. Serotonin basically contributes to emotional stability and allows for appetite regulation. A pronounced deficiency of the amino acid may explain feelings of anxiety and depression in otherwise healthy individuals.
3) Memory enhancer: Cocoa is a natural brain stimulant which increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for memory support, among other benefits. Children and adolescents are sometimes advised to nib on a few cubes of dark chocolate prior to an exam in order to enhance their memory and performance. But eating too much cocoa or dark chocolate may prove counterproductive if you want to have a good nigh’t rest because the caffeine in them may overexcite the brain and lead to alertness and insomnia.
4) Blood pressure regulator: Cocoa helps dilate blood vessels which prevents plaque detached from artery walls from blocking normal blood flow and causing serious cardiovascular events such as a stroke or heart attack. Antioxidant compounds also found in cocoa beans help lower LDl (bad) cholesterol levels and prevent the oxidation of these lipids, thin the blood and preserve blood vessel integrity, thus reducing stroke and heart attack risks.
5) Powerful anti-aging properties: Cocoa is an incredible source of natural antioxidant polyphenols, containing over 700 known anthocyanins, flavonols, flavanols and flavanones. These powerful natural compounds protect our blood vessels, heart, brain, and other organs from damage caused by free radicals at cell level. Free radicals are actually reactive oxygen molecules found everywhere from the air we breathe to the water we drink.
By causing damage to the very building block of our body, cells, they corrupt entire tissues and organs. Cell damage means the installation of chronic disease (diabetes, cancer, bowel diseases, neurological degeneration and so on). Antioxidant rich-foods such as cocoa beans promote cell regeneration leading to healthy tissues and organs. This not only prevents chronic disease, but also ensures a fresh, radiant, youthful appearance.
Conclusion. It is a known fact that all avid cocoa or chocolate consumers live longer and healthier lives. They do not develop any serious illness, nor are they depressed. Even the world’s most famous centenarians admit to indulging in chocolate as often as they please. Cococa and dark chocolate really do seem to be the key to a long, happy life.
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