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Dr. Sears' Blog

Breaking down the latest research on Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition
Written By: Dr. Barry Sears, Ph. D | Creator of the Zone Diet

Written by Dr. Barry Sears
on February 25, 2020

Dr. Sears answers some of the top questions we receive about our new Cocoa Polyphenols.


Q: What are the health benefits of cocoa?

A: The health benefits of cocoa come from the polyphenols it contains. Studies link cocoa consumption to improved cardiovascular health, increased cognition, enhanced blood flow, reduced insulin resistance, anti-aging benefits, and a healthy gut.

Q: What is the difference between cacao, cocoa, and chocolate?

A: In short, the level of processing defines the difference between cacao, cocoa and chocolate in addition to the amount of polyphenols. Cacao is the name of the tree that chocolate comes from. The cacao tree produces pods which contain cacao beans that can be turned into cocoa and further processed into chocolate.

Steps During Processing

  1. Cacao beans are sorted, cleaned and dried.
  2. The shells are then removed (winnowed) to produce cacao nibs which are roasted to further enhance flavor and aroma.
  3. Cacao nibs are then ground into a liquid mass called chocolate liquor (no alcohol here).
  4. Chocolate liquor can be made directly into chocolate or further refined through a pressing process to extract the cocoa butter from the cocoa solids.
  5. The cocoa solids can be pulverized into cocoa powder, which retain the remaining polyphenol content in dry form.
  6. The cocoa butter can then be added back in defined amounts to the chocolate liquor to make various grades of chocolate.
  7. The amounts of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa solids differentiates the type of chocolate to be made (white, milk, dark).

*Note: Before being processed into chocolate, cacao beans go through a fermentation process. This can greatly reduce the polyphenol content in the cacao beans. This is why Zone Labs uses unfermented cacao beans when making our cocoa extract.  

Q: What is cocoa extract?

A: We developed a proprietary cocoa extract using a purification process that allowed us to retain the maximum polyphenol content while minimizing the amount of cadmium, a heavy metal found in all cocoa products.

Q: Is there a benefit of using cocoa extract over consuming cacao nibs which are considered the purest form of chocolate?

A: In order to gain all the health benefits that come with cocoa polyphenols you need to eat large amounts of cocoa. What most people don’t know is that all cocoa products are contaminated with heavy metals. One of the major considerations when consuming cacao nibs and cocoa powders is that they naturally contain cadmium, a heavy metal associated with kidney toxicity. This means higher intakes of cocoa polyphenols could come with high intakes of cadmium. This is what makes using cocoa extracts like CacaoRx desirable because they’ve been purified to minimize the intake of heavy metals while retaining the maximum amount levels of polyphenols.

Q: Does the level of cocoa polyphenols differ with the type of chocolate?

A: Yes, generally cacao nibs have the highest levels of polyphenols followed by cocoa powder, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate (very few). White chocolate has no polyphenols.

Q: What is CacaoRx?

A: CacaoRx is a high purity, high-potency cocoa polyphenol extract. I developed CacaoRx using a process to reduce heavy metals such as cadmium that are commonly found in cocoa products.

Q: What is CacaoRx Plus?

A: CacaoRx Plus is high purity, high-potency cocoa polyphenol extract combined with our purified maqui extract (MaquiRx). The addition of maqui helps maximize the absorbable amount of polyphenols that enter the bloodstream to bring out the health benefits associated with cocoa.

Q: Do CacaoRx and CacaoRx Plus use cacao powder or cocoa powder?

A: The starting material for CacaoRx and CacaoRx Plus is our proprietary cocoa powder.

Q: Do you test the heavy metal content of your products?

A: Yes, all of our products using cocoa are 3rd party tested for purity and potency.

Q: Can you bake with CacaoRx or CacoaRx Plus?

A: While you could bake with our cacao products, we don’t recommend it because exposing cocoa polyphenols to high heat will destroy some of the polyphenols in the product.

Q: Do CacaoRx and CacaoRx Plus contain caffeine?

A: The cocoa used in these products is highly purified to remove heavy metals while retaining polyphenol content. There is some caffeine and theobromine but in very low concentrations.

Q: Are CacaoRx and CacaoRx Plus safe for children in supplement form?

A: We always recommend that prior to starting supplementation individuals consult their physician. All of our cocoa polyphenol products have Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status which means they have undergone an extensive external review of their production and safety so that they can be incorporated into food products. 

Q: Are CacaoRx and CacaoRx Plus Non-GMO?  

A: Yes, these are non-GMO.

Q: If you use CacaoRx or CacaoRx Plus, do you still need to supplement with polyphenols?

A: I recommend individuals consume at least 1,000 mg of polyphenols per day for wellness and about 1,500 mg per day for anti-aging to help with stimulation of AMP kinase*.  To get those levels, one would need to eat about 10 servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruits. Reaching those levels with food alone is difficult.  Furthermore, many of the sources rich in polyphenols either have pesticide contamination or heavy metal contamination.  For example, strawberries and spinach are good sources of polyphenols, but each is often rich in pesticides.  Cocoa powder which is the basic component of chocolate products is often rich in the heavy metal cadmium.  The cocoa extract we use in CacaoRx and CacaoRx Plus is highly purified and has GRAS status meaning it has passed strict testing to be able to be used in food products.  It is the type of polyphenols you consume that makes the most difference.  I feel that polyphenol extracts such as those found in CacaoRx and MaquiRx have the most benefits. Maqui berry extract is considered the best of the best as it’s rich in delphinidins and helps support improved blood sugar control, and cocoa extracts like those in CacaoRx help support improved blood flow and the reduction of insulin resistance.  Both of these polyphenol extracts have been supported by clinical studies.

Q: How many polyphenols come from maqui vs. cocoa in the CacaoRx Plus?

A: Each capsule of CacaoRx Plus contains 150 mg of total polyphenols. The majority of the polyphenols come from cocoa and the rest from maqui. The exact amounts we use are proprietary. Cocoa is not highly absorbed which helps to promote the good bacteria in our guts while maqui is a polyphenol known to be more absorbable in the blood. The combination of the two helps to support the hormones in both the gut and the blood. The polyphenols in CacaoRx Plus are 3 times more absorbable compared to CacaoRx.Cacao-CTA01

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