Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ku-Ku for Cacao

My CocoaWell Bar
I ran to the Whole Foods near my office today on lunch to pick up some tea. I was waiting in line and happened upon a candy bar. Now, if you're a Whole Foods regular, you know that they aren't like other grocery stores with rows of candy in every check out lane, so, I was intrigued. There were still two women ahead of me so i picked up the candy bar and read. CocoaWell is the brand and this particular bar was called CocoaScience: Organic Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Supplement with PPF Complex. I was immediately turned off, as I usually am by anything attempting to combine too many elements into one. It reminds me of junky granola bars making aggressive health claims because they've managed to squeeze in trace amounts of cocoa, acai, pomegranate, flax, and god knows what else just to use some gimicky label - and it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth! But, for curiosity's sake, I turned the bar over to read the label:

Organic Fair Trade South American Chocolate, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Raw Vanilla Beans, Organic Raw South American Lucuma Fruit, Organic Raw Cacao Powder, Organic Raw Madagascar Cinnamon, Organic Raw South Americana Maca, Organic Pure Plant Flavanol Complex (PPF Complex®), Ancient Sea Salt, NutriTIENOL™, Organic Blend of Antioxidant Oils for freshness, Organic Vanilla Oil.
I have been reading a lot lately about Maca and am a huge fan of coconut oil and cacao and all of their nutritional benefits. A few ingredients like PPF Complex® and NutriTIENOL™ made me a little nervous but my curiosity prevailed and I bought the bar. HOWEVER, I needed to do some research before I was going to put it anywhere near my mouth! I visited the CocoaWell website as well as their parent company's, Reserveage Organics, website to get some more information on CocoaWell and the ingredients used in their products. What I found was a pretty cool company doing some pretty awesome things with cocoa and Kuna.

Photo Source: Organic Spa Magazine
The Kuna are an indiginous people living on small islands off the coast of Panama or in a few towns in Columbia. They have inhabited that area since the 16th century and speak their native tongue, Dulegaya. What is particularly interesting about the Kuna is their historically low blood pressure coupled with the fact that, unlike most of the western world, they don't experience an increase in blood-pressure typically brought on by aging. What's more, there are almost no cases of hypertension, heart disease or cancer among their race. What does this have to do with my chocolate bar? Nearly 20 years of Harvard research, published in 2007, identified a direct link between their pristine health statistics and the Kuna's ritual daily drinking of 40oz or more of hot cocoa and cacao. You read that right! 

It is this proven component of their diet that inspired CocoaWell to their produce healthful nutrient-rich cocoa/cacao products. Their genuine intention and interest allowed them to be warmly accepted by the Kuna people, a relationship few have successfully established. I was saddened to read that most of the Kuna's cacao plants were destroyed by widespread witch's broom disease. For this reason, CocoaWell doesn't source their cacao from the Kuna but continue to build their relationship and gain greater understanding of their culture. According to CocoaWell's website, the company's relationship with the Kuna "is aimed at helping them restore cacao production. [They] are so indebted to the Kuna for inspiring CocoaWell that [they] are committed to working side by side with them to replenish their forests and reinvigorate their economic future." And, well, I think that is just fantastic! What about you?

Cacao & CocoaWell Bars

Cacao Pods
Photo Soure: CacaoLab
Now that I gained some trust for and interest in the brand, I was back to contemplating the chocolate bar I purchased. CocoaWell developed these bars, exclusively available at Whole Foods Markets, to allow others to benefit from what has been proven by the Kuna people. 

So, what is it about cacao that is keeping the Kuna kickin'? Cacao contains a great amount of antioxidants, including reservatrol, and tons of beneficial flavanoids. What do these do for your body? AMAZING THINGS! Reservatrol is a powerful antioxidant which targets any toxins in your system, reduces stress on and damage to your cardiovascular system, and ultimately helps keep your body well-defended. It has been linked to lowering blood pressure (Kuna-proven!) as well as defending your nervous system. This is the same antioxidant that gives red-wine its healthy stamp of approval! In addition to reservatrol you have all the awesome flavanols which improve both short and long term memory and cognitive function, decrease the damaging effects of stress on your system and make your body less sensitive to insulin. So, guys, you enjoy that piece of dark chocolate, okay!? Like I said, it does a body good to feed it what it needs and indulge now and then!

So, we've established that your body could benefit from a bit of chocolate. But, I do want to point out that these benefits are reaped only from dark chocolate and raw cacao. Milk chocolate is highly processed and contains dairy (hence the milk part). The more you process the cacao plant, the greater the decline in nutritional benefits. There is practically no nutrition benefit in consuming milk chocolate candy. Seek out raw cacao nibs, cacao powder, dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao,  dark drinking cocoa with the same high cacao percentage, and maybe...a CocoaWell Chocolate Bar? Let's take another look.

I Ate It In Four  60-Calorie Servings
I'll list again the ingredients:

Organic Fair Trade South American Chocolate, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Raw Vanilla Beans, Organic Raw South American Lucuma Fruit, Organic Raw Cacao Powder, Organic Raw Madagascar Cinnamon, Organic Raw South American MacaOrganic Pure Plant Flavanol Complex (PPF Complex®), Ancient Sea Salt, NutriTIENOL™, Organic Blend of Antioxidant Oils for freshness, Organic Vanilla Oil.

We've established the great things organic dark chocolate and cacao powder will do for you. So, why by a candy bar when you can buy a piece of dark chocolate just as easily? That was my first thought as well. It turns out the CocoaWell candy bar packs a really unique punch of nutrients in addition to those already available from the cacao: 

Organic Coconut Oil is what I like to call a SUPER-OIL (worthy of the CAPS!). This study found that coconut oil, a medium-chain-triglyceride, is broken down in the liver in a way and utilized in a way which results in losing abdominal fat stores - and as we all know these are some of the toughest pounds to take off!! It also helps stabilize blood sugar, lower blood pressure and the lauric acid in it fights bad bacteria and fungus that would lead to infection.

Lucuma Fruit is a very popular fruit in South American cultures. It is similar in taste to mango and according to this article, is a more popular ice cream flavor in some countries than chocolate or vanilla. It isn't only sweetening this chocolate bar though, it is also jam-packed with nutrients like beta-carotene for immune support, vitamins B1 and B2, and niacin which aid in balancing cholesterol.

Madagascar Cinnamon is sweeter and less peppery than your typical cinnamon, boasts antimicrobial properties which fend off yeast and fungus, and it helps to stabilize blood sugar.

Maca is a root vegetable grown at very high altitudes in the mountains of Peru. It has been used medicinally dating back to 3800 BC and his high in phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, iron, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B12, C and E. Maca's most recognized benefit is its support of the human endorcine system, the system responsible for balancing hormones and regulating metabolism. It has been known to help control stress levels, alleviate PMS symptoms, increase energy and stamina and improve libido. You definitely want-a some mac-a, guys!

Then there's the Pure Plant Flavanol Complex and NutriTRIENOL that concerned me, as I mentioned earlier. I googled around and couldn't find much information so I contacted CocoaWell directly for some answers. They were extremely helpful and explained the following:

NutriTRIENOL is made up of the following items: Organic Virgin Red Palm Oil, Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Organic Rosemary Antioxidant Extract and Organic Madagascar Cinnamon Bark Oil.

PPF Complex is Green Tea and Acacia Catechu.

All great stuff! 

Ultimately, the Kuna people prove that some dark chocolate or raw cacao can do a body GOOD! You can indulge while still feeding your body some brilliant nutrients - who doesn't like that!? The CocoaWell Organic Fair Trade Dark Chocolate bar is a great option, giving you maybe a little more nutrient-bang for your buck. Normally, I tend to practice (and preach) eating foods as close to their natural state as you can, but for a chocolate bar - you could do A LOT worse. 

(And if you're wondering... It tastes divine.)

Go pick up a treat for yourself and enjoy!

As always, choose certified organic whenever possible! You don't want to feed your body all these awesome things we looked at today, only to have them overrun by dangerous toxins!


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