Cacao: Good for Your Heart & Running Performance

sarah cuff Food for Runners, Phytonutrients, Recipes for Runners 5 Comments

With Valentines Day just around the corner I thought we might talk about something commonly associated with this day — chocolate.

Well, raw chocolate that is – raw cacao, which is really just a fancy way of saying cocoa. Or maybe it’s the ‘official’ way of saying it. After all, the small evergreen tree where chocolate comes from is called a Theobroma cacao tree.


Why do I insist we consume only raw cacao? Because it is milled at low temperatures to protect the nutrients and flavour, whereas the more commonly found cocoa powders are highly processed and often processed with alkali (also known as Dutch processing or Dutching).

You see, raw cacao is rich in a phytonutrients called flavonoids (and subgroups called  called favanols) which are know to protect our heart and strengthen our cardiovascular system. In 2012, a review of 42 studies on chocolate (1297 subjects combined) confirmed cacao’s healthful capacities including its anti-inflammatory properties. As runners, we want to include foods in our diet that help to manage inflammation.

Flavanols are found in raw cacao at a rate of about 34mg/g. However, in processed cocoa powder they are greatly reduced – anywhere from lightly processed with about 13mg/g, to heavily processed with only about 4mg/g.

This why we always hear the advice to reach for dark chocolate – 70% cacao content or higher (I recommend reaching for bars of at least 85%). Interestingly, most commercial chocolate bars contain only about 10% cocoa. Plus, the milk contained in most bars inhibits the absorption of the limited flavanols it does contain (research has shown milk proteins inhibit absorption of flavonoids).

What I’m really trying to say is – reach for the source. Use real raw cacao powder and dark, unprocessed chocolate.

Before I sign off I do want to mention that cacao is also a great source of magnesium, (an electrolyte that helps to prevent muscle cramping) – offering between 20 to 25% of the recommended daily intake in one serving – 2.5 tablespoons (the amount I put in my daily breakfast shake!).

Plus, cacao is also rich in iron (a mineral required for energy that long distance runners are often deficient in) – offering between 8% (females) to 25% (males) of the RDI.

So please, indulge in your Valentines Day chocolate – just make it yourself from raw cacao… Your heart and running performance will thank you.

Happy running 🙂


Sarah J Cuff, RHN

Comments 5

  1. Pingback: Your ONE Nutritional Strategy for a Strong & Healthy Heart | Eat 2 Run

  2. Another great article. I always wondered the difference between the two, but hadn’t taken the time to research it. Thanks!!

    1. Post
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  4. I’m pleased to see this blog post come up in my search to confirm my bias for my affinity towards cacao paste pre-training ? I really enjoy raw pure cacao paste (literally pure cacao beans made into raw chocolate) dipped in sea salt.

    Not sure where exactly this arose for me, but it’s gentle on the gut, highly stimulating and my body responds very receptively to it as a fuel before running or swimming.

    Thank you! Also happy to see that you’re based in Vancouver as I’m in Squamish!

    Big cheers ?

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