Before going to battle the Aztecs made a habit of consuming a cacao drink, as they believed it gave them unrivalled strength and energy.
Cocoa has been considered a health food for over 3000 years, however our understanding of the underlying mechanisms have only developed more strongly in the recent years. Studies suggest that some of cocoa’s health benefits can be traced back to it’s rich content of epicatechins. Epicatechins are a type of flavonol, shown to produce antioxidant activity.
Unlike with production of milk chocolate, dark chocolate retains a substantial amount of epicatechins. That is why, majority of research focuses on dark chocolate and the raw cocoa seeds (derived from the cacao tree).
Small human studies have suggested that cocoa containing foods may improve function of blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Findings from a larger Zutphen Elderly Study in the Netherlands showed that over a period of 15 years men who were the highest cocoa consumers had a 3.7 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure, a 2.1 mmHg reduction in diastolic blood pressure and a 50% lesser risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to the lowest cocoa consumers.
Though there is still insufficient evidence to make any claims, current evidence suggests that chocolate containing at least 60% cacao and eaten in no higher amounts than 2g a day is the most optimal for prevention of cardiovascular disease.