News & tips on health, fitness and nutrition

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Antioxidants help to quell the fire of free radicals our bodies generate and are exposed to every day. One way to measure the antioxidant potential of a food is by its ORAC value. ORAC is the acronym for “Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity” and is a measure of the potential antioxidant capacity of a food. In theory, the higher the ORAC value, the higher the concentration of antioxidants present in a food. Organic raw cocoa has the highest ORAC value of any food.

The US Department of Agriculture/Journal of the American Chemical Society has released data on high ORAC value foods per 100 grams compared to unprocessed raw cacao (28,000):
  • dark chocolate (13,210), 
  • prunes (5,770), 
  • blueberries (2,400), 
  • kale (1,770) 
  • and broccoli (890). 
 According to the USDA, the average American gets 1200 ORAC value/day in their diet. They go on further to say that Americans should strive to get between 3000-5000 ORAC value/day. One tablespoon of cocoa powder which is about 5g has an approximate ORAC value of 1400, which gives you almost half of what you need.

The phytonutrients that give raw cocoa powder its high antioxidant value are a group of compounds called polyphenols or more specifically flavonoids.  Cocoa has more flavonoids than any known food.  Two flavonoids in particular, catechin and epicatchin, are found in extremely high amounts in cocoa powder and have copious amounts of research supporting their health benefits.  These two flavonoids along with hundreds of other known phytochemicals in cocoa appear to prevent and even treat some of today’s most devastating diseases. Interestingly, this myriad of flavonoids in cocoa appears to be absorbed intact into the human blood stream (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nov 2002) which allow them to exert their medicinal power on the body.

Many Americans are deficient in the minerals copper and magnesium, both of which are found in cocoa.  Cocoa contains about 0.8 mg of copper per 100 g and is therefore a great food source of copper.Copper has many uses in the body, including the oxygenation of red blood cells and aiding in cellular energy production.  Cocoa also has the highest amount of magnesium of any known food source,approximately 131 mg per 100 g of cocoa.  This mineral, which plays a significant role in cocoa’s health giving properties, is required by over 300 hundred enzymes in the body and is crucial for cardiovascular health, optimal blood pressure and protein synthesis.

cocoa consumption is associated with decreased blood pressure, improved blood vessel health, and improvement in cholesterol levels, among other benefits.

Other benefits of cacao:
  • Habitual cocoa intake lowers blood pressure via its high arginine content and the nitric oxide pathway. Lowering blood pressure reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke. 
  • Other protective mechanisms cocoa can offer against cardiovascular disease come from its potent antioxidant profile. The flavonoids in cocoa raise HDL, the “good” cholesterol and both lower and protect LDL or “bad” cholesterol  from being oxidized (damaged by free radicals) in the blood, which helps fight against plaque formation 
  • Cocoa acts as a natural blood thinner when taken daily. Cocoa reduces platelet aggregation or in other words thins the blood. Platelets are sticky little cell fragments that help our body repair injury, but can also contribute to plaque formation in the arteries. 
  • One of the most deadly complications from diabetes mellitus (type II diabetes) is heart disease. Cocoa protects us from these complications and also helps to promote insulin sensitivity.
  • Colon and reproductive cancers like breast and prostate cancer are among the most common types of cancers. Components of cocoa, notably the polyphenols have shown to stop proliferation of breast, prostate and colon cancer cells while sparing normal cells.
  • Research is also showing cocoa powder to help immune function, cognition, and detoxification.  Cocoa can both upregulate specific immune cells and help modulate immune function. It appears to increase brain oxygenation which has beneficial implications for diseases like dementia. And finally, raw organic cocoa powder with its high fiber content has been shown to facilitate the excretion and detoxification of environmental contaminants from the body.

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