What is a “super food”? And, no, they aren’t the foods that superheroes eat. Though if you eat them they may increase your chances of increasing some healthy functions of your body (just not to the extent of being supernatural!). Superfoods are foods that have an exceptionally concentrated amount of nutrients that typically include antioxidants. Out of all of the superfoods which one ranks supreme? It’s a bit controversial to crown any one superfood as king or queen, but there are a couple that stand out amongst the rest. One of which is dark chocolate.
Originally cultivated by the Mayans circa 400 AD, Dark Chocolate (aka cacao – pronounced “ka – kow”) has long been revered as the “drink of the gods” and rightfully so. Although the Mayans, Aztecs, and later, our colonizing European ancestors, enjoyed cacao for its “wisdom” and medicinal properties it wasn’t until modern times when research was able to catch up. Now with the help of modern science it is well understood that cacao beans, and their derivatives, are high in polyphenol antioxidants (e.g. catechins). In fact, there are several studies demonstrating cacao’s powerful antioxidant effects (R) at reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure (R) andatherosclerotic plaquing (R), as well as preventing some types of cancer (i.e. antimutagenic effects) (R).
The primary investigators of a 2009 research study compared white chocolate, milk chocolate and cacao powder extract (CPE) for their antimutagenic effects on a procarcinogenic chemical: benzo[a]pyrene in vitro (R). The results indicated that there was a dose-dependent response of the antimutagenic effect of cacao by inhibiting CYP1A enzyme activity. In other words, a pro-carcinogenic chemical was neutralized by turning off the CYP1A enzymes that would normally convert it into a more dangerous carcinogenic metabolic by-product.
Other than its potential effect in preventing cancer and reducing cardiovascular risk factors, cacao is well understood to improve cognition. A 2008 Norwegian cross-sectional study compared elderly men and women to see if their chocolate, wine and tea intake significantly influenced their cognitive function (R). Interesting, all 3 antioxidant rich foods boosted brain power, most notably wine. However, cacao was effective as well and it was estimated that regular consumption of ⅓ of your average dark chocolate was the sweet spot (pun intended). One of the mechanisms in which cacao helps improve brain power may be by increasing cerebral blood flow but more studies need to be conducted to allow us to understand this better (R).
So the next time you contemplate indulging in a little bit of dark chocolate remember that, in moderation, a little bit goes a long ways for your health!
Dr. Travis Cox is a Functional Medicine Chiropractor who is passionate about getting to the root cause of your health concerns. Book a free 15 minute consult to learn more about how he can help you today!