What Are The Health Benefits of Cacao?
By now, you have heard that cacao is a superfood. But just how good is it? The answer is “surprisingly so!” The health benefits of cacao go way beyond that of even most superfoods. In fact, cacao is one of the few foods that is said to be a complete mineral supplement. But that is by no means the end of the story.
So what do we mean by the term “superfood”? Superfoods are nutritionally dense and diverse natural foods (not supplements) that offer great healing potential to the body. They supercharge the body with vital nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, good fats, essential fatty and amino acids. Lets take a look at what cacao can do for your body & mind…
Food as mother nature intended
It is always best to eat food in as natural form as possible, how mother nature presents it to us. I.e. with little or no processing. To get the most out of cacao, its best to eat the whole bean. Cacao butter and cacao powder come from the cacao bean, but the separation process – done by compressing the beans under high pressure in a hydraulic press – degrades the nutrient content due to the high heat involved. Resulting in two products being made from one. Intuitively, you can understand that something is lost.
For the greatest health benefits, it is recommended to eat cacao as raw as possible. There is much controversy about how easy it is to prepare raw cacao. According to our research, its pretty difficult. As cacao is produced in third world countries using third world processes that are mostly unmonitored and certainly unstandardised, processing of cacao is done as cheaply and as easily as possible. Little attention is given to temperatures during sun drying and grinding, meaning that most raw cacao is probably not raw. Truly raw cacao probably only comes from small, closely monitored operations. And there is no recognised standard as to what temperature constitutes a raw food either! Here is an interesting article on cacao preparation.
Cacao is said to be a complete mineral supplement
Cacao is rich in magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, chromium, manganese, sulphur, copper & phosphorous. Phew! Many of these essential and trace minerals are difficult to get these days, even through a balanced diet as our soils are mineral depleted. Processing of food also seriously reduces mineral content.
Magnesium: Cacao is the worlds #1 source by weight. Magnesium is an alkaline mineral that promotes heart health through relaxing the heart muscle and reducing blood pressure. Magnesium also lessens symptoms of PMS, balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones and elevates mood.
Iron: With over 300% of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) of iron in each ounce (28g), consuming cacao is one of the best ways to keep our blood healthy, protect and repair muscles, help fight infections as well as assist oxygenation of the body.
Copper: Assists in the production of neurotransmitters and gives skin smoothness and suppleness. It is required for healthy bones, red blood cell formation, connective tissue and nervous system functioning. It also assists with hypothyroidism and certain types of mental illness. One ounce of cacao provides over 50% of RDI.
Chromium: Is a trace mineral that helps balance blood sugar, detoxifies the liver from alcohols that build up during the fermentation of sugars and starches (from eating processed and refined food) and assists in cleansing the blood.
Manganese: Also a trace mineral, supports bone development, speeds wound healing, sustains healthy skin, stabilises blood sugar and strengthens the immune system.
Sulphur: Some of the healthiest cultures in the world have high sulphur diets. It assists in liver metabolism, functioning of the joints and cartilage, assists the antioxidant defence systems of the body, peps up the immune system and it is widely touted as the beauty mineral – strengthening hair, nails and skin. It also helps detoxify the liver and support healthy pancreas functioning.
Antioxidant Levels are off the charts
Out of all the whole foods that contain antioxidants, raw cacao nibs have the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score of any food. It is higher than blueberries, red wine, green tea and goji berries combined. Way higher, as much as 4 times higher. Antioxidants are measured by weight, so you would have to consume 100g of goji berries to get a similar amount of antioxidants to eating an ounce (28g) of cacao.
There are many different types of antioxidants and they are not all equal. Different antioxidants in different foods effect different parts of the body. At the time of writing, there is still a lot more research to be done into antioxidants and which foods are better for different health conditions. There still is no RDI for antioxidants and whether more of certain types of antioxidants are better, nobody really knows.
What we do know is that they are anti-aging as they protect and repair DNA and proteins from free radical damage. Antioxidants in cacao enhance blood flow, maintain healthy cholesterol levels and even reduce the build up of arterial plaque – increasing artery flexibility and reducing the incidence of heart disease. They may also reduce the incidence of cancer.
Cacao is also one of the worlds great weigh loss foods. Because it speeds up the metabolism, is nutrient dense and high in protein, the body gets all the nutrients it needs and no longer sends out hunger signals. In this way, its a natural appetite suppressant. Cacao has only 170 calories per ounce. Which is bugger all when you think about it!
And It makes you feel gooooooood…
Cacao is one of the few foods in the world that helps our brain to produce more feel good chemicals. It has therapeutic levels of brain chemicals that positively affect mood, memory, appetite, pain perception, feelings of well being, rejuvenation, attraction and euphoria. Check out all the neurotransmitters present in cacao:
Serotonin: Is the primary neurotransmitter in the human body. Cacao increases serotonin levels, acting as an anti-depressant, reducing PMS and promotes a sense of well being. AND it enhances your libido.
Endorphins: By stimulating the secretion of endorphins, cacao gives a similar pleasurable sensation to that of an exercise high. Cacao releases a similar amount of endorphins to that of a vigorous workout – say running several miles.
Phenylethylamine: Found in cacao, has been called the “love chemical.” Phenylethylamine is created within the brain and released when we are in love. Its no wonder we give chocolate on Valentines Day! It also acts as mood elevator, anti-depressant, and helps increase focus and alertness.
Anandamide: Is known as the “bliss chemical” because it is released by the brain when we are feeling great. Cacao is the only food that contains both N-acylethanolamines, believed to temporarily increase the levels of anandamide in the brain, and enzyme inhibitors that slow its breakdown. This promotes relaxation and helps us feel good for longer.
Dopamine: Stimulated by the Phenylethylamine and Chromium in cacao, it is well known that increased levels of dopamine magnify attraction and sexual desire. Wahoo!
Cacao also contains Tryptophan & MAO inhibitors. MAO inhibitors prevent the re-uptake of Serotonin and Dopamine, meaning increased neurotransmitter activity. So you can feel good for longer periods.
Cacao is a great source of dietary fibre which helps with regulate digestion and clean the digestive tract. It is a great source of protein and it is one of the worlds most chemically complex foods. Amazingly. cacao contains over 300 different compounds – some of which are still being researched.
Cacao also contains theobromine. Theobromine has been vilified as toxic and stimulating in the same way as caffeine. But 9kg of cacao would need to be consumed before theobromine levels become toxic. In reality, theobromine has very little stimulating effect on the nervous system. It does however stimulate the cardiovascular system, dilating blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and increasing nutrient uptake during digestion; which of course is a good thing!
Taking cacao regularly is also linked to longer life. There have been many studies that show that people who consume cacao (and even regular chocolate) live considerably longer than those who don’t.
Its seems the health benefits of cacao are almost endless!
So how do you feel when you get stuck into the cacao?