Greetings friends. Today we are looking at one of my personal favourite food medicines; cacao or raw chocolate. The internet abounds with recipe after recipe for raw chocolate delights but it is good to remember that cacao is a healing food and is in fact medicinal and should be respected as such. None the less, we all love to dig into some raw chocolate and avocado mousse every so often don’t we! Let’s have a look at what cacao can do for you apart from just tasting epic. One of the most wildly popular trees on the planet is the cacao, the plant species from which cocoa – and chocolate – is derived. While some of you might think cacao and cocoa are one in the same, they’re not, exactly. Cacao is the tree, while cocoa is the product made from it (not to be confused with coca, an evergreen shrub from which cocaine is concocted. Definitely NOT good for you!). Edible parts of cacao pods and the beans inside them can be processed to make cocoa powder, cocoa butter, or chocolate after being dried and fermented.
Health Benefits of Cacao
I have spoken at length before about free radicals and antioxidants, but some people are still unsure of what these terms mean in regard to our health so I will explain very briefly. Exposure to the sun, cigarette smoke, pollution, and toxic chemicals, such as chemical weed killers, and unhealthy foods can all release free radical activity in the body. However free radicals can also can be produced by factors like stress as well. Either way free radicals damage healthy tissue. Antioxidants in the foods you eat help reverse that process, helping to combat disease by zapping harmful free radicals. That’s where cacao comes in. Raw cacao powder contains more than 300 different chemical compounds and nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate – more than 20 times than that of blueberries. Protein, calcium, carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, sulfur, flavonoids, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids are also present. The precise blend of all these elements combined serve to kick in naturally occurring phytochemicals that have incredible benefits throughout the body, such as lowered LDL cholesterol, improved heart function, and reduced cancer risk.
Phenethylamine, or PEA, is one of them. Large doses of this compound are said to be released into the brain when we’re attracted to someone, but natural pain- and stress-relieving chemicals known as neurotransmitters stimulate the secretion of endorphins to help us stay alert and focused. Studies have shown that chocolate affects your emotions and mood by raising serotonin levels, which explains why chocolate is often craved when gloominess looms. Also to the rescue is a neurotransmitter called theobromine, a mild stimulant sometimes used as a treatment for depression. It releases the compound anandamide, which produces uniquely euphoric feelings of relaxation and contentment.
For those who think chocolate must be bad for you rest assured: there’s only one gram of sugar in a half-cup serving of raw cacao. It’s what’s done with it that makes the difference. Unfortunately, high heat from processing and refining to produce different types of cocoa or chocolate damages the cocoa bean’s micronutrients, along with the health benefits. Not only that, but additions like high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sugar, and partially hydrogenated oils limit the amount of actual cocoa, and dairy products actually block the absorption of antioxidants, so if it’s nutritive benefits you’re looking for, your average chocolate bar isn’t likely to supply much.
Cacao phytonutrients are as rich as its history
The health benefits associated with cacao’s phytonutrients are many. Europeans discovered it was useful in increasing the weight of emaciated patients, stimulating the nervous system, and improving digestion. They used it for anemia, tuberculosis, gout, fever, low virility, increasing breast milk production, and to “improve mental weakness.” Leaves and flowers of the cacao were used to treat stomach and skin problems, including burns. (http://www.phytochemicals.info/research/cacao-history.php) Many studies indicate that cacao usage reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, including clinical and epidemiological studies and In vivo experiments. Results found cocoa and chocolate to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve platelet function, raise HDL, and decrease LDL oxidation. Studies have also shown chocolate to help relieve emotional stress by relieving stress hormones and biochemical agents in the body. Chocolate allows neurotransmitters to stay in the bloodstream longer, helping a person to relax and providing a natural antidepressant benefit. The flavonoids in raw chocolate are potent as well. They were shown by a Spanish study to have a bactericidal effect on Bacillus cereus. Another study showed them to improve cognitive function. Additionally, they are the source of the chocolate’s antioxidants, known to fight free radicals and reduce or prevent damage to tissue and DNA from oxidation and stress.
Raw chocolate has a much higher nutritional value than that made with roasted beans. It has manganese, vitamin C, omega-6 fatty acids, and chromium, in addition to the nutrients outlined above. The low temperatures used to process raw cacao means more nutrients are left intact. The oxalic acid interferes with calcium absorption; one more reason to have smaller amounts of higher quality chocolate. If new to “real chocolate,” start small with just five or six cacao nibs or three to four teaspoons of cocoa powder. To benefit from the phytonutrients of cacao, indulge in rich, organic dark chocolate. Consider trying raw cacao nibs or powder. A little “food of the gods” goes a long way, and the healthful benefits are worth the extra price.
Well there you have it friends, cacao is one of nature’s most tasty and healing foods. Give it a try today.
Until next time. be well, naturally.
Craig Hitchens – Natural Health Practitioner & Remedial Therapist
Alternative & Natural Health Disclaimer:
The information contained in this article is accurate at the time of posting but may change thereafter. The information provided on the various natural health subjects from this website of www.craighitchenstherapies.com is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as any form of medical advice. The information in the article this disclaimer is linked from is not meant to treat, diagnose, prescribe or cure any ailment. Always check with your health professional before taking any products or following any advice that you believe may conflict with other forms of health care. Always consult your health care professional before you start, stop or change anything that has been previously prescribed. Certain herbs and holistic remedies are unsuitable to take if you are pregnant or nursing and must always be cleared by your health professional before use.