In the health industry, there are constantly new diet trends and food fads embedding themselves as truth into our psyche. Uncovering some of these truths as myths was a real eye opener into how easily foods can be misconceived, as well as how easily wholesome foods can be turned into junk foods. When I found out that what actually makes processed chocolate, more formerly known as cacao, bad for you is all the added sugar, dairy and preservatives, I knew I needed to learn more so I could differentiate between unhealthy processed chocolate junk foods and good quality chocolate derived from the cacao pod with minimal processing. Let’s dive into some of the benefits of cacao so you too can better learn how to navigate the inundated chocolate field and reap the benefits that this incredible plant has to offer.
Getting to Know Cacao
Unlike cocoa, which is roasted, cacao is a raw pod and is chocolate in its purest form. Here in Hawaii we are lucky to have cacao trees growing all around us. I love eating the gooey white pulp, known as pulpa, which is the fruit surrounding the bitter tasting yet beautiful purple cacao beans. I personally find the taste too bitter to eat the cacao beans raw, although I know many people who love to crunch on them right out of the pod.
If you’re not in an area where cacao grows naturally and they’re unavailable at the markets nearby, fret not. There are still a few great ways to get the benefits of this superfood into your diet.
6 Reasons Why You Can Remove the Guilt from Your Chocolate Cravings
So what exactly does raw cacao have to offer? Where to begin!?
1. Cacao is a Great Source of Magnesium
As mentioned in some of the recent posts on magnesium, raw cacao is an excellent source of this essential mineral that many Americans are deficient in.
2. Cacao is a Natural Stimulant – So Use Wisely!
Cacao is actually a strong natural stimulant as well. Contrary to popular belief, raw cacao actually has little to no caffeine. The stimulation usually gained from consuming cacao is most likely from theobromine, a related and similarly structured alkaloid to caffeine.
It’s also good to remember that moderation is key. While cacao possesses an array of amazing health boosting characteristics, it can also be overstimulating in excess. It’s crucial to always be mindful no matter what you are eating, and enjoy the process without abusing it.
3. Cacao is an Excellent Source of B Vitamins
Cacao is a great source of B vitamins including B1, B2, B5, and B6. The B vitamins are knows to help boost life’s crucial metabolic processes, boost energy levels, ease stress, anxiety and depression and also help with PMS and menstrual cramps –no wonder so many woman crave chocolate during their monthly cycles!
4. Cacao is Known to Support a Healthy Heart
Supporting heart health is another huge benefit of raw cacao. Rich in oleic acid, an essential monounsaturated fat, it has been shown to assist blood vessel dilation, maintain low blood pressure, improve circulation, help regulate heartbeat, lower LDL cholesterol and in turn reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks –whew, that’s a long list of health benefits!
5. Cacao is Very High in Antioxidants
Many of the heart healthy perks just stated could also be directly related to the fact that cacao is super rich in antioxidant flavonoids. In fact, cacao has scored higher than all other foods tested including blueberries, red wine and green teas.
6. Cacao Can Make You Happy 🙂
By releasing specific neurotransmitters like mood enhancing serotonin, endorphins, phenylethylamine and anandamide, cacao actually promotes happiness. So the next time you’re craving chocolate, ask yourself: “Am I really looking for a mood enhancer and if so, what other ways can I boost my mood?” Hint: boost your mood by going outside for a good walk or catch a few extra zzz’s. Check out 5 Ways to Improve Your Happiness When You’re Stuck in a Rut. Even thought it ok to occasionally seek out a treat to boost your mood, turning to chocolate when you’re feeling down can spiral into a bad habit. Just remember that awareness is key and try to maintain a sense of balance around what you choose to eat.
Best Ways to Use Cacao
In powder form, cacao is an amazing addition to smoothies, nut milks and banana “nice” cream. My dear friend Skye runs an awesome company called Medicinal Foods and has great cacao products. You can order their products online or check out what they have to offer right here.
Dairy has actually been proven to inhibit the processing of raw cacao’s antioxidants so be sure to use nut milks like almond or hemp when working with the powder. You can also check out Laura Dawn’s e-book, Your Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Dairy Alternatives, for great information on non-dairy substitutes.
Raw cacao nibs also maintain most of the health benefits of fresh cacao. Whether snacking on them straight, mixed into a trail mix or smoothie bowl or rolled into bliss balls, cookies or pancakes, you’re still getting all the goodness cacao has to offer.
Doing What’s Right For You
So how are you going to navigate this sea of information to determine what is truly good for you? First step is to take everything you read with a grain salt – even this! Listen to your body. Trust what makes you feel good and recognize the signs your body sends you. Some people say that the taste of cacao can actually become more bitter when you have had too much, so start paying attention to what your body is communicating to you. It’s that simple!
Treat your body like the temple that it is, and don’t feel guilty when it calls for some chocolate. Notice what’s driving your craving, approach it with mindfulness and make sure to get the best cacao that you can find, with minimal processing and whole food ingredients.
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii!