Cacao is hands down one of my favorite superfoods because well… chocolate.
Cacao comes from the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree– this is chocolate in its purest form. Raw Cacao not only tastes delicious, but there are so many amazing benefits that come along with it. I wanted to write this blog post to give you some more information on why Cacao is so good for you and let you know that raw chocolate is healthy to consume when choosing the least processed version.
Cacao is hormone-balancing and works to boost your serotonin levels in the body. Cacao also contains compounds that when reacted in the body can lower your overall level of cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone.
Cacao is also extremely rich in antioxidants.These antioxidants naturally protect the body from free radicals, which contribute to aging and disease. The ability for the body to fight free radicals decreases with age, which is why it’s recommended that as you get older it’s so important to be consuming more antioxidant-rich foods.
We’ve all heard that blueberries contain many antioxidants, but cacao actually contains 20 times more antioxidants than blueberries. These antioxidant properties have also been found to reduce insulin resistance and sensitivity. The antioxidants in Cacao are flavonols containing polyphenols, catechins, and epicatechins.
Raw cacao also contains Anandamide. Anandamide is termed, “the bliss molecule” because it is released when we feel good. By increasing neurogenesis —the formation of new nerve cells— anandamide exhibits both anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. Anandamide, like all neurotransmitters, is fragile and breaks down quickly in the body, which is why it doesn’t produce a perpetual state of bliss. To get the most anandamide from chocolate, eat dark rather than milk chocolate. Or, better yet, eat cacao nibs which are the raw material used to create chocolate. Cacao nibs are cacao beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks, and broken into smaller pieces. They’re significantly less processed, contain zero sugar, and are a more concentrated source of chocolate’s beneficial compounds. I love adding them on top of my smoothies or chia pudding for a yummy crunch.
Aside from dark chocolate, eating more raw chocolate can offer additional health benefits such as in workout recovery. Raw cacao contains arginine, an amino acid turned into nitric oxide in the body, helping to regulate blood pressure and aid in recovery of muscles. And although nitric oxide has heart benefiting qualities, it also produces toxins. Fortunately, the antioxidants in cacao neutralizes these toxins, protecting your heart and preventing against disease.
Further, cacao is a great source of iron. Iron is absorbed best when paired with a source of vitamin c, like in fruit. Try pieces of dark chocolate with berries… fresh organic raspberries and dark chocolate is one of my favorites!
And did I mention raw cacao is completely sugar free!? It’s become a habit to keep an eye on my added sugars I consume throughout the day. If I want something sweet I’ll opt for fresh berries or I’ll choose a natural sweeter like raw honey or maple syrup. For more info on why I limit my sugars, click here. If you want to complete a 7-day sugar detox with me, click here! I do them every few months so keep a look out.
While dark chocolate is found to offer many health benefits, RAW cacao offers far beyond that. Remember, the greater the cacao percentage in dark chocolate, the lesser percentage of unhealthy sugars and additives! (My go-to chocolate bars are Eating Evolved). Although there are so many health benefits to raw cacao, as with anything, be careful not to over do it. Try to aim for 40-50g a day, this is enough to get the nutrients you need (equal to about 4-5 heaping teaspoons). I love adding a tbsp into my smoothies or when I make my chocolate bark (added sugar-free).
Cacao in excess may cause elevated heart rate, nervousness, sleeplessness– all related to high doses of caffeine. *Pregnant women should be careful not to consume too much cacao. Click here for more info.
The Biggest Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa:
Cacao and Cocoa may sound almost the same, but they are in fact very different. Both start off as raw cacao beans (tastes like a very bitter version of chocolate). Cacao is made by cold pressing raw cocoa beans while cocoa powder is made by roasting the beans at much higher temperatures. Because cacao is processed at lower temps, cacao powder retains all of its enzymes, vitamins, and nutrients and is considered “raw.”
Other known benefits found in trace amounts of cacao include:
– essential fatty acids.