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Health Benefits to Cacao and Coffee

A photo of Honeymoon Chocolate's Haiti Chocolate bar on a slab of marble with is wrapper next to it

Cacao and Coffee both share similarities in harvesting, fermenting, and growing climate. And the benefits of enjoying both overlap in ways that we continue to amaze. As part of our journey to showcase the benefits of cacao, we decided to loop in our local coffee roaster, Kaldi’s Coffee, to compare and contrast some benefits of chocolate and coffee.

Foods and beverages made from beans from the Theobroma cacao tree (cocoa, cacao) have been consumed by humans since at least as early as 460 AD. The name Theobroma is derived from the Greek roots “theo” and “broma”, meaning food of the gods., Some cultures continue to eat large amounts of chocolate, such as the Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands of Panama. They consume an average of three 10-ounce cups of cocoa beverage daily, ingesting approximately 1880 mg of procyanidins, a natural antioxidant., The prevalence of hypertension among the Kuna islanders is very low (2.2%) and blood pressure does not increase with age. Procyanidins provide the majority of antioxidant activity in cocoa products. In addition to this, cocoa contains methylxanthine compounds—predominantly theobromine—about 2% to 3% by weight. Theobromine also has antioxidant effects, similar to caffeine, which is present in chocolate in trace amounts (0.2% by weight). Despite its similarity to caffeine, theobromine has much less stimulating effects.

A photo of coffee cherries growing on a branch

 

Some studies suggest that coffee consumption could have cardiovascular benefits such as lowering blood pressure and inhibiting oxidation of low density lipoproteins. These effects would appear to be related to coffee’s densely-packed array of phenolic compounds, particularly chlorogenic acids. However, a lot more research is still needed to pinpoint the exact mechanisms by which coffee may contribute to better cardiovascular health, and also to explore the upper bounds of any such benefit.


When controlled for other variables like heavy smoking or preexisting conditions, coffee has also shown some signs of conferring benefits in regards to disease prevention. Liver disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease may all possibly be inhibited by some mechanisms of the bioactive compounds of coffee. Still, like with blood pressure studies, there needs to be more research to fully explore the role of coffee and its mysterious chlorogenic acids.


Image of Kaldi's coffee cherries taste testing

Some obvious downsides to coffee, however, are well-known. For example, one shouldn’t drink coffee when pregnant, or if suffering from severe anxiety.

Our Sources:
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2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobromine
3. Chevaux KA JL. Villar ME, et al. Proximate, mineral and procyanidin content of certain foods and beverages consumed by the Kuna Amerinds of Panama. J Food Comp Anal. 2001;14:553–563., McCullough ML, Chevaux K, Jackson L, Preston M, Martinez G, Schmitz HH, Coletti C, Campos H, Hollenberg NK J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2006; 47 Suppl 2():S103-9; discussion 119-21.
4. Rue, Emily A et al. “Procyanidins: a comprehensive review encompassing structure elucidation via mass spectrometry.” Phytochemistry reviews : proceedings of the Phytochemical Society of Europe vol. 17,1 (2018): 1-16. doi:10.1007/s11101-017-9507-3
5.  Ramiro-Puig E, Castell M Br J Nutr. 2009 Apr; 101(7):931-40.
6. Weisburger JH. Chemopreventive effects of cocoa polyphenols on chronic diseases. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2001;226:891–897.
7. Shively CA. Tarka SM., Jr Methylxanthine composition and consumption patterns of cocoa and chocolate products. Prog Clin Biol Res. 1984;158:149–178.
8. Anna Tresserra-Rimbau, Alexander Medina-Remón, Ramon Estruch, Rosa M. Lamuela-Raventós, Chapter 42 - Coffee Polyphenols and High Cardiovascular Risk Parameters, Editor(s): Victor R. Preedy, Coffee in Health and Disease Prevention, Academic Press, 2015, Pages 387-394,ISBN 9780124095175
9. Amarowicz R, Pegg RB. The Potential Protective Effects of Phenolic Compounds against Low-density Lipoprotein Oxidation. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(19):2754-2766. doi: 10.2174/1381612823666170329142936. PMID: 28356039.
10. Donald Hensrud, M.D. “The Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Feb. 2020,
11. www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/coffee-and-health/faq-20058339#:~:text=Coffee%20still%20has%20potential%20risks,to%20be%20cautious%20about%20caffeine.