Attention cacao

How does your work day flow? Are you a creative dynamo fizzing with ideas, inspiration and the joy of living in the morning only to become a lethargic lump oozing lassitude, distraction and disinterest in the afternoon? If you are victim to that post-meridiem slump, then you might want to think about cacao (not chocolate) to get your derailed attention back on track.

The study was sponsored by a chocolate company, no surprises there, but the product used in this study was a 60 per cent cacao “chocolate” product. We need up front to be clear what we are talking about here because the difference between cacao, cocoa and chocolate is not just the quantity of vowels.

The cacao bean is the source of both cacao and cocoa powders. Cacao beans are found inside the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree in fleshy, oval-shaped pods. The beans are harvested, fermented and dried. When you see cacao nibs, powdered cacao (or cacao powder) in the Grocery stores, the bean is in its raw state, uncooked, additive free and unprocessed.

When cacao beans are roasted and processed they are called “cocoa”. Most cocoa powders have additives like sweeteners or cocoa butter. There are two processes used to make cocoa powder. Dutch-process cocoa powder is made from cacao beans that have been washed with a potassium carbonate solution, to neutralise their acidity. Dutch-process cocoa is dark brown in colour. Natural cocoa powder is reddish-brown and is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted and ground into a fine powder. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder is very similar to raw cacao powder except for experiencing higher temperatures during production, which decreases antioxidant activity.

If you want to make chocolate, you can start with cacao or cocoa and then add things like sweeteners, milk, fats and so on.

So be clear that what was used in this study was a 60 per cent cacao product, and it was not the standard chocolate bar you find in your office “goody” box.

This study used electroencephalograph (EEG) technology to measure brain activity when subjects consumed this 60 per cent cacao product. They found that EEG showed increased activity that corresponded to heightened attentiveness and alertness after eating the cacao product. There was also a slight increase in blood pressure. The researchers though do make the point that chocolate products with sugar and milk added will not have the same effects as this high-cacao product. They also experimented with adding l-theanine (a blood pressure lowering substance found in tea) to a 60 per cent cacao product and found that attention was improved but blood pressure was lowered.

The researchers say that combining cacao with l-theanine will yield a heart friendly confection that helps you pay attention. So, no doubt, you will soon see a chocolate bar with added l-theanine in a store near you. Thankfully, though, you won’t be fooled and will turn instead to your homemade cacao and chia bliss balls (sweetened with coconut nectar) and a cup of tea for your afternoon pick-me-up.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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