We all know the importance of eating a wide range of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to stay fighting fit. But blueberries, broccoli and kale aren’t the only super foods offering a rich helping of antioxidants. Cacao also boasts an impressive amount.
Packed with flavonoids and catechins, raw cacao may well be one of the most powerful antioxidant sources money can be. And to top it all off, it tastes delicious too.
What Are Antioxidants?
The word antioxidant is thrown around a lot in the world of superfoods, but you might not know exactly what they do. Put simply, antioxidants stabilize and ultimately destroy free radicals in your cells and tissues. Although most free radicals are natural byproducts of metabolism, a proportion of these potentially harmful chemicals are formed when the body breaks down environmental toxins like cigarette smoke and fumes.
Left to the buildup, free radicals can speed up aging, increase the risk of developing cancer, and potentially cause heart disease.
As well as tackling the buildup of free radicals, antioxidants work by reducing inflammation – a contributing factor to many common diseases – as well as preventing changes in platelets that can lead to blood clots.
Digging a little deeper, we find that antioxidants can be separated into three categories: enzymes, vitamins and phytochemicals. The latter can be broken down into these categories:
• Allyl sulfides
With each type of phytochemical holding its own health benefits, it’s easy to see how antioxidant-rich foods like cacao have earned the title of superfoods.
Why is Raw Cacao So Good for You?
When you compare the nutritional clout of cacao to that of regular chocolate, there’s no comparison. Whereas chocolate undergoes intensive processing, cacao’s journey from bean to bar is much simpler. Simply fermented and dried, cacao nibs are the purest form of chocolate you can buy. And that means they preserve all of those incredible antioxidant benefits. If you were in any doubt of the importance of minimal processing, a study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service found that antioxidant levels dramatically decrease in correlation to processing. So while cacao contains the highest levels of antioxidants, processed cocoa offers significantly fewer flavonoids.
Packed Full of Flavonoids
Raw cacao is packed full of polyphenols called flavonoids. These plant compounds give colors to fruits, vegetables and flowers, while protecting the plants from the damaging effects of free radicals. When consumed by humans, the antioxidant has a similar effect. Found to both neutralize free radicals and support immune functions, flavonoids can potentially reduce the risk of serious diseases like heart disease.
One study from the Linus Pauling Institute even found that flavonoid antioxidants like those found in cacao may interfere with the development of cancer. In the study, anthocyanins were found to reduce the incidence of breast and pancreatic cancer in laboratory mice.
While this type of antioxidant is found in other foods such as green tea and red wine, research from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center suggests that cacao offers one of the biggest doses. Anthocyanin, a powerful form of flavonoid, is found in especially high levels in cacao, with a 2003 study confirming that this super food trumps green tea, red wine, and black tea as the best source of the flavonoid.
But cacao doesn’t just boast antioxidant phytochemicals – it offers a huge range of nutrients, minerals and vitamins too. So for a healthy dose of magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc and copper – as well as plenty of flavonoids – you might want to consider adding cacao to your shopping list.