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Lifestyle Tips

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

Written by Mary Perry, MS, RD, LDN
on February 26, 2021

We often hear about the benefits of eating chocolate but do you know what makes it healthy? Hint, it’s all about the cocoa! Here are five benefits you may not know about cocoa and why it pays to be choosy with what you pick.


Cocoa is rich in a group of naturally occurring compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols are known for their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While a variety of polyphenols exist in cocoa, the primary polyphenols come from a group called flavanols. It is these polyphenols that are responsible for the health benefits we often attribute to chocolate. What you may not know is that the polyphenol content of cocoa can fluctuate greatly. It largely depends on the type of bean, where it is grown, and other factors like the temperature used in processing or potential use of alkali treatment on the cocoa powder. It has been shown that as much as a three-fold difference can exist in total polyphenol content depending where it is grown. Although 30% of the worlds cocoa is produced in the Ivory Coast, the plants with the highest polyphenols are actually grown in the highlands of Ecuador.

Cacao-Benefits(5)-02Studies show that cocoa helps with the expanding the blood vessels, also called vasodilation. This makes blood move more easily throughout the body. The European Commission has approved the health claim that 200mg of cocoa flavanols from either cocoa beverages or dark chocolate daily helps contribute to normal blood flow.Cacao-Benefits(5)-03Cocoa supports a healthy gut by promoting the levels of beneficial bacteria. The gut has one of the highest populations of bacteria in the body. Some of these bacteria can be a significant source of inflammation. Cocoa's anti-inflammatory properties help combat this inflammation since most cocoa polyphenols are not absorbable in the blood and end up in the gut.Cacao-Benefits(5)-04Building on the improved blood properties of cocoa, intervention studies suggest that cocoa benefits the heart by helping to reduce blood pressure, improve vascular function, and help support healthy blood sugar by reducing insulin resistance (1).Cacao-Benefits(5)-05Since cocoa has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, research suggests this could aid your workouts. Taking cocoa flavanols with exercise has been shown to improve vascular function, reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress and even alter how the body uses carbohydrates and fats during exercise (2).

The benefits of cocoa are well researched but before you start thinking about all the places you can add cocoa into your day, here is what you to need to know. Cocoa is naturally rich in the heavy metal cadmium so the higher the concentration of cocoa polyphenols, the higher the amount of cadmium. Why cadmium is dangerous is because it can cause kidney and liver toxicity and inhibits the activity of critical anti-oxidative enzymes (3). This is also why many chocolate products rich in cocoa polyphenols exceed the daily limits for cadmium set by the state of California (3). So how do you get the benefits of cocoa without the cadmium…you look to Dr. Sears.

How CacaoRx Came To Be

Dr. Sears knew the literature was well documented on the benefits of cocoa for its polyphenol content and improved blood flow properties, but he had to solve for the issue with cadmium. This led him to create a proprietary purification process and ultimately the creation of CacaoRx. The result is the highest concentration of cocoa polyphenols with the lowest levels of cadmium. This is why we post the polyphenol and heavy metal content for each lot of our cocoa polyphenol concentrates so that you can see it meets his incredibly high standards. This purification process then led him to seek regulatory approval so that the cocoa could be used as a food products (a.k.a. Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) status) such as our ZoneRx bars and shakes. Now you can get all the great benefits of cocoa polyphenols without worrying about cadmium, because they were created with Dr. Sears' continuing commitment to product excellence.Explore-Cocoa-Polyphenols-Banner


1. Valeria Ludovici, Jens Barthelmes, Matthias P. Nägele, Frank Enseleit, Claudio Ferri, Andreas J. Flammer, Frank Ruschitzka, Isabella Sudano. Cocoa, Blood Pressure, and Vascular Function. Front Nutr. 2017; 4: 36. Published online 2017 Aug 2.

2. Decroix L, Soares DD, Meeusen R, Heyman E, Tonoli C. Cocoa Flavanol Supplementation and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2018 Apr;48(4):867-892.

3. Genchi G, Sinicropi MS, Lauria G, Carocci A, Catalano A. The Effects of Cadmium Toxicity. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 May 26;17(11):3782.

4. Labs W. Solving the cadmium in chocolate conundrum. Food Engineering. Nov 9, 2020

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