Cacao – The Superfood Of The Gods
If you are a chocoholic, you’ll be very happy to discover the benefits of raw cacao. This superfood has been revered for centuries by the Aztec and Maya cultures. The Incas considered it the drink of the gods. The botanical name of the cacao tree that came from the Andes is Theobroma, from the Greek word theo (god) and broma (drink). This treasured crop played an important role in rituals, ceremonies, and was used as a currency for trade in South American cultures. This is a superfood that blows all other superfoods out of the water!
The pod in which cacao beans are found is considered a fruit rather than a vegetable and is actually classified as a seed. Cacao is the raw component derived from the bean of a cacao tree. The cacao bean is used to make cacao or cocoa powder. Raw cacao is fermented and sun-dried. It is then turned into a paste (also known as cacao liquor) made by crushing the raw cacao beans into a liquid. This liquid solidifies at room temperature and the result is cacao block that you can then chop or grind into a powder form. The nibs are the beans after they’ve been roasted, taken out of its husk and broken into tiny pieces. The image below gives you an idea of what the nibs and block form look like:
Photo credit: http://www.drhardick.com/cacao-vs-cocoa
The method used to make the cocoa powder from the bean is referred to as the Dutch process. This process uses an alkalizing treatment before grinding and roasting the cacao nibs to make cocoa powder or cocoa liquor, which is then used in chocolate bars or baked goods. The chocolate that we know today goes through a lot of processing and adds dairy, sugar, and other ingredients which are said to block the absorption of antioxidants and loses the flavanols that are nutritious.
We thought it would be wiser to focus on some of the health benefits of raw cacao found in the form as raw cacao paste, powder or nibs. Dark chocolate still has its benefits (70% or higher) and maintains a good portion of its bitterness. The higher the percentage of cacao is, the more antioxidants and flavanols you’ll receive. 100% raw cacao is best, it contains no sugar or other additives. Raw cacao contains four times the antioxidant content of regular processed dark chocolate, 119 times more than bananas and 20 times more than blueberries. Wow, now we know why it’s the king of superfoods.! You can easily throw these nibs or cacao paste into your smoothies in the morning. And remember, coconut milk, almond or rice drinks keeps milk out of the equation! Try this powerful smoothie below:
Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/449304500310900086/
So let’s look at some of the delightful benefits that you can get from this superfood that packs a punch and adds some wholesome pleasure to your life. Cacao beans contain over 700 different compounds. It helps thin the blood much like an aspirin, but is even better then the pill. Cacao contains protein, calcium, magnesium, carotene, flavonoids, thiamin, riboflavin, antioxidants, vitamins E & B, iron, calcium, zinc, potassium and essential fatty acids. Beyond impressive! We now know why they referred to it as the drink of the gods!
Balancing Hormonal Mood Swings
Cacao releases serotonin in the brain, the feel-good chemical that makes us happy. It benefits everyone but could be considered a bonus for women who experience PMS, the phase in which serotonin levels drop considerably, so it can be useful during those cycles.
Blissful Happy States & An Aphrodisiac
Well, you can get blissed out on a cup of cacao because it contains anandamide, which is a molecule that creates a feeling of euphoria. Another element found in cacao is the compound PEA or phenethylamine, which activates the release of endorphins and other feel-good neurochemicals. It’s a chemical that we naturally release during lovemaking and this not only feels good but also improves libido. It has been said that the only other food on earth that contains PEA is blue-green algae. We thought cacao was so much more exciting and delicious!
Photo credit: http://intentionallyrefined.com/cacao-vs-cocoa/
Traditionally, there have been over 150 medicinal uses of cacao, including heart health. Flavanols are an anti-inflammatory and protective antioxidant found in raw cacao, which helps with blood circulation, insulin sensitivity, reduces the risk of stroke, and protects against cardiovascular disease. The complex antioxidants found in cacao are known as polyphenols that help reduce bad cholesterol and prevent hardening of arteries. The flavanols not only help cells to build the inside lining of the arteries, but produce nitric oxide which relaxes the arteries and the nervous system.
Better Digestion & Weight Loss
Raw cacao has fiber in it, and thus stimulates the body’s digestive enzymes and can give the sensation of being full. If you drink a cup before meals, it appears to help shed fat. This is a result of something termed MAO inhibitors, which seems to reduce appetite and is commonly found in many weight loss products. What is particularly distinct is that cacao’s MAO permits more serotonin to circulate in the brain.
Prevents Signs of Premature Aging
Even more interesting, the polyphenol antioxidants, anthocyanins (dark fruits) and catechins (green tea), protect your cells from premature oxidation, which keeps you looking younger. The antioxidants block damaging free radicals in the body. It also helps to increase blood flow to the skin, keeping it radiant. Who would have ever thought that raw cacao could even make you look healthier?
Raw Cacao is a great source of sulfur, which will take care of your pancreas and liver while giving you strong nails and shiny hair. Sulfur has the capacity to constantly build and rebuild collagen and keratin, which is important for hair, skin and nails. It contains omega 6 fatty acids, which helps heal wounds and scars rapidly. German scientists discovered that cacao can protect against harmful UV rays that cause cancer. London scientist found that 20 grams a day allowed women to stay twice as long in the sun without getting sunburned. The flavanols not only protect you from sunlight acting like a natural sunscreen, they improve your skin texture and hydration. Cacao butter is used in many skin care products too!
The high concentration of magnesium and other minerals found in cacao can naturally energize the body without over stimulating the nervous system as coffee does. Magnesium is also known to protect against osteoporosis, lowers blood pressure and reduces type 2 diabetes. It also helps to enhance muscle and nerve function. We only need 4 tablespoons (40 grams) of cacao, giving us loads of nutrients that go a long way. With the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, anandamide, and phenylethylamine in the brain, these will surely fight chronic fatigue. Try these easy raw energy balls for a healthy snack:
Photo source: http://www.alphapw.com/category/meal-plan-ideas/
Brain Function & Memory
Well, it even improves cognitive function and prevents Alzheimer’s disease as a result of the flavonoids antioxidants. A well-known study at Harvard by Dr. Gary Small found that memory improved while intaking regular small doses of cacao along with increased blood flow to the brain.
The list of benefits goes on, but we’ll stop here! We wanted to give you a sample of some of the benefits to entice you into adding this superfood to your smoothies, chia puddings or delicious desserts. Remember, cacao is to be taken in moderation; you only need 40 grams, or a handful of nibs to acquire all the benefits. Natives in South America have used it as a medicinal drink in ceremonial settings as it is a great heart-opener that helps unblock deep emotions while giving you all the feel-good hormones and health benefits.
Today, that tradition continues and is known as “cacao ceremonies “ where people gather together to open their hearts and expand meditative practices in communion with others. Others have cacao ceremonies followed by sound baths, allowing the person to go on a sound journey that is further enhanced. It’s really enjoyable simply as a delicious drink while savoring all the nutrients. Some people have replaced their morning cup of coffee with the drink of the gods! Who wouldn’t want a cup of delicious superfood? Check out this video to prepare your own cup of cacao drink:
There is something else that is brewing around the globe as a result of the resurgence of raw cacao interest: fair trade chocolate and cacao. Newly established companies that are making and developing cacao and chocolate in the more traditional methods are changing the relationship with farmers by voting for the ethical treatment of laborers. There are an estimated 250 million child slaves working to produce coffee and cocoa. Buying fair trade chocolate takes a position for a system that is creating respect for everyone involved Check out these 13 fair trade chocolate brands leading the way. A change is already in the making, so let’s support them! Let us know if you have any great recipes to share!