Debunking the Cocao Myths
Recently I searched for the health benefits of cocao because I wanted to see what scientific based studies were out there. Oddly enough I found a few sources making some very interesting claims on cocao on the first page of google. Some were directly related to how amazing it was and others related to how bad it was for you. Some were actual studies, but they came further down than I expected. The articles at the top seemed to be of value, but honestly I found after reading them they took advantage of people by making the tantamount opinion based information seem very valid.
So which is it? With all things there is balance...If you do too much of any one thing it will have negative impact on you. Also, supplementing cocao or adding it into your diet is going to help verses going overboard because a person or a study said it is extremely good for you or not good for you. Also, we have to take into consideration each person is different and may have different reaction, results, likes, and dislikes when it comes to food products.
One of the reasons for the mixed messages is because influential people like to express their opinion on products with no real basis of knowing the product. But science is improving the understanding of what the cocao bean really does and thankfully we can really start not falling for the hype and rely on the reality. I found several opinion based articles at the top of the search. I found this interesting because it is showing us how much we look at other peoples judgments and not peer reviewed science.
For instance there are people saying that in the jungle animals do not eat the cocao beans. Well, that is a mostly true statement because animals can't handle a higher alkaline food. Mammals on the other hand eat cocao in the wild. After living in the jungle and seeing it first hand I know from experience mammals eat cocao, but would never expect those who have not seen it know what was being said was less than true unless there was scientific evidence to solidify my claims. Mammals are plentiful in the jungle. It is all about semantics in most of these articles really. Saying it is not good for humans because it is not good for animals is like comparing apples to oranges. We are not in the same classification, so it cannot be used as a comparison.
Another statement I found said ancient societies never ate the cocao beans, only the fruit. Well this again is partially true because the beans were ground up and placed in a tea, often with some sort of tortilla added. So technically it was drunk, not eaten, and consuming it in this manner is still ingesting it in my opinion. This claim to me is really just another way to manipulate us into thinking something is not what it seems. Additionally, most Mesoamerican cultures ate raw seeds from the cocao until Europe asked for the fermented seed to increase the chocolate flavor.
Another statement went on to say Shaman used it to enhance their psychedelic trips. Shaman were the healers of the time and yes they drank it too. The culture ingesting cocao the most here in Belize is the Maya. As I said they have been drinking it for thousands of years and the tea has been passed down through the generations. The fruit typically goes in stew/soups. So whether Shaman used it in combination for tripping or to help with flavor of whatever nastiness they consumed for spiritual awareness I really do not know. What I do know is it was used by everyone in the Mayan culture.
Here is my basic understanding of the cocao seed... It is very alkalize, and if you follow any kind of holistic understanding about health, the more alkaline your body the less likely you will have disease. These diseases such as cancer have a difficult time reproducing in an slightly more alkaline environment. Granted research is now being done as to the individual health effects of the cocao bean specific to the flavonoids. Mostly what is being found is good heart health, better toxin relief, and more of what goes hand in hand with flavoniods. Mars Inc. has started to study the effects with one of the largest and longest studies to ever be done on the flavoniods in cocao. I am sure will say the study will be twisted, but it is appearing in peer reviewed articles. Click Here to see an article outlining the research being done on cocao.
One thing to be aware of in your search for health benefits is going to be the claim that Dark Chocolate is healthy. It again depends on who makes the product, but also realise the true benefits comes from the least amount of processing. The sugar used is known to block some of the benefits you may get from cocao. The raw bean or the raw fermented cocao bean is by far the best choice. The issue is in order to relieve it of the jungle parasites and bacteria you should roast it or wash it with a solution to kill off contaminates. The later of course can cause more harm than good. Roasting the cocao will still give you some of the best nutritional value from this superfood. It still remains alkaline, although it does loose a percentage of the flavonoids. If the roast is above 250 degrees then you can lose some of the vitamins and minerals we her so much about. But if you are eating food other than the cocao bean then you will not have to worry so much about the bean being a major superfood. The more processed it is the less potent it will be. For optimum taste, disease free, and nutrition we prefer the roasted bean. The next step is the Chocolate Nibs which is still a great choice. Once additives and other products are added it will begin to take away from the cocao.
If you want to read a good study outlining the different drops of processing click here. This is a study taking a couple types of cocao and testing some of the stages of processing. It shows how much is lost at the fermentation stage and the roasting stage. If you are not a reader then the scientist has nice charts so you can still get some kind of idea.