And the science says: more chocolate!

Love chocolate? Thank cacao, the wonder bean and super food that's packed with nutrients. Photo courtesy Everjean at Shutterstock

Love chocolate? Thank cacao, the wonder bean and superfood that’s packed with nutrients. Photo courtesy Everjean at Flickr

Having healthy reasons to eat chocolate, Wonka or otherwise, is almost as good as a golden ticket. And if you're looking for some of these reasons, you're in luck: Registered Dietitian and ultra-athlete Matt Ruscigno discovered plenty while researching for his new book, "Superfoods for Life: Cacao."

Initially skeptical about this "superfood," Ruscigno, who also has a master's degree in public health, took a deep dive into 60 peer-reviewed studies. What he found surprised him. He already had a hunch that all superfoods were not created equal, but cacao was more powerful than he’d expected.

Author Matt Ruscigno at play; photo courtesy Philip Beckman/PB Creative

Author Matt Ruscigno at play; photo courtesy Philip Beckman/PB Creative

In the book, over the course of six chapters, Ruscigno investigates the health benefits of cacao and practical culinary applications of the brown powerhouse. The book also includes 75 recipes, which were created by the self-billed "touring vegan chef, author, and noisy punk-rock singer" Joshua Ploeg.

Of course, there are some desserts, like Raw Chocolate Carrot Cake and Aztec-style Drink (Two Ways), but most of the recipes are savory, like Huitlacoche-Chocolate Empanadas, Tamarind Chocolate Chili, Cocoa Buffalo Tempura Vegetables, and Dolmathes with Currant-Chocolate Rice & Cacao Tzatziki.

We talked to Ruscigno about his findings, and he also helped clear up some definitions: Cacao is the whole bean from which chocolate is made. Chocolate liquor, the main ingredient in dark chocolate, is cacao in liquid form and contains both the cocoa solids and cocoa butter. And, lastly, cocoa is cacao with the cocoa butter removed; cocoa may or may not have been processed with alkali to reduce bitterness. Check out the list below for more tips from the author on how to get more sweet goodness into your life.

11 Things You Need to Know about Getting Health Bennies from Chocolate

  1. Phytochemicals are what make superfoods "super" and cacao has more of them per serving than wine or tea.
  2. Studies suggest cacao increases blood flow and oxygen to muscles.
  3. Eat 1 to 3 ounces of dark chocolate to get the beneficial effects; concentrations are higher in straight cacao beans and lower in cocoa powder.
  4. Cacao contains large amounts of compounds known as phytochemicals, which play an important role in the prevention of disease, from heart disease (by reducing plaque buildup in arteries) to type 2 diabetes (by increasing insulin sensitivity).
  5. Early research coming out of Harvard suggests that cacao increases blood flow to the brain, which can enhance cognitive function and just might help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
  6. Cooking with cacao doesn't have to be complicated or reserved for gourmands; the jerk tofu is awesome and the more adventurous will love the borscht.
  7. Getting into cacao is easy: Most grocery stores have dark chocolate in the baking section.
  8. Want to nerd out on chocolate? Check out single-origin bars or bars from specific regions.
  9. When shopping for cocoa, stay away from Dutch processing because it removes beneficial compounds.
  10. Look at where the chocolate comes from: Child slavery is often used in cacao production in West Africa. Check out The Food Empowerment Project for more info.
  11. Adding raw cacao beans to smoothies is a quick and easy way to introduce more cacao into your diet.

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