Show some love this Valentine’s with antioxidant-rich raw cacao!

Raw cacao is choc-full of antioxidants. Antioxidants are good for us because they help protect body cells and reduce inflammation. 
Cacao is particularly rich in polyphenols, a specific type of antioxidant. Research shows polyphenols can help maintain well-being due to their ability to reduce cell damage and support healthy ageing. Polyphenols have anti-inflammatory benefits to support metabolic, cardiovascular and brain health.
Cacao polyphenols support cardiovascular health.
The polyphenols so abundant in cacao include proanthocyanidins. These are flavonoid polyphenols and have been shown to reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (commonly known as ‘bad cholesterol’) thereby reducing the build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries, blood vessels damage and atherosclerosis. Flavonoids also support circulation due to their vasodilatory properties and ability to reduce blood clotting. Cacao flavanols have also been studied regarding their ability to improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control which is important in weight management and reducing diabetes risk.
Cacao is good for us, but we need our friendly gut microbes to harness the benefits. What’s more, cacao helps fuel our good bacteria - so it’s a win-win! 
One of the most interesting areas currently being researched is our gut bacteria's role in making polyphenols work for us. Around 95% of the cacao polyphenols you eat remain undigested until they reach the colon. It is our friendly gut bacteria that break them down into smaller metabolites that we benefit from. These metabolites are bio-active, meaning they can now exert their positive effects in our bodies. And it’s a two-way thing because our gut bacteria love cacao too! Cacao polyphenols enhance beneficial microbes such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and help keep unfriendly microbes at bay.
A happy, healthy gut microbiome helps us in many ways, including:
  • Supports a balanced immune system
  • Encourages normal gut motility – that’s the passage of food and waste through the bowel
  • Helps prevent colonisation by unfavourable microbes
  • Helps us digest plant fibres that we can’t break down
  • Improves nutritional status (making B vitamins, vitamin K, encourages mineral absorption and metabolises various compounds from our diets for our benefit)
  • Produces fuel for our gut lining and helps keep it healthy
  • Influences mood management
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Regulates our metabolism and weight
  • Encourages a well-functioning gut-brain axis. This is the two-way directional communication network between our digestive tracts and our brains
Cacao flavonoids appear to play a role in helping to protect the gut wall’s barrier function and reduce systemic low-grade inflammation. 
Cacao flavonoids also appear to have the potential to improve gut barrier function and help reduce low-grade inflammation that can arise if tiny fragments from the cell walls of less favourable gram-negative bacteria are allowed to enter the bloodstream. This undesirable metabolic endotoxemia, to give it its technical term, is shown to have a significant correlation to increases in the risk of developing a variety of chronic disease. Therefore, cacao consumption can help reduce this risk.
Raw cacao is a rich source of other phytochemicals
It is not just the polyphenols in cacao that are good for our gut microbes and therefore good for us. Other phytochemicals, such as theobromine, as well as the fibre in cacao, have beneficial effects by encouraging the growth of the good guys and inhibiting the development of the less favourable ones. 
So spread the love for you, your loved ones and your gut microbes and benefit from luxurious raw cacao. Considerable amounts of polyphenols are lost during the processing involved in commercial chocolate making, so consuming raw cacao helps ensure the highest level of polyphenols.
CHOC Chick’s Cacao Nibs with Yacon are a perfect way to combine the healthy gut bacteria properties of cacao with the prebiotic benefits of Yacon. Just add them to your porridge and yogurts or mix them in with a homemade trail mix. You can incorporate more cacao into your lives as well by simply making delicious hot cacao drinks with CHOC Chick’s Cinnamon Cacao or Mandarin Cacao Powder - mix with hot water and add your milk of choice. You might want to sweeten with a little honey or maple syrup. 
Raw cacao can replace cocoa powder in your favourites sweet bakes and make a delicious, creamy addition to chillies and stews. 
Thank you to the wonderful Jo for this CHOCTastic blog! Jo Majithia, Eat4Wellbeing, is a BANT Registered Nutritionist ® and CNHC Registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. Visit her site and follow her on Instagram @eat4wellbeing for healthy eating recipes, advice and inspiration.
Sorrenti, V et al. (2020). Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health. Nutrients: 12(7): 1908
Eugenia, M & Flores, J. (2019) Cocoa Flavanols: Natural Agents with Attenuating Effects on Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors. Nutrients: 11(4): 751
Hayek, N. (2013) Chocolate, Gut Microbiota, and Human Health. Front Pharmacol: 4: 11