Cacao: 5 Ways it Boosts Your Bliss

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I WILL CONFESS that I am a chocoholic. Over the years I’ve indiscriminately sampled and enjoyed it in all forms. From Hershey’s to Godiva, white to dark, Belgian to Swiss…you could say I’ve been an equal opportunity chocolate consumer. Maybe you can relate.

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The Incas called cocoa the drink of gods, which paved the way for the scientific name of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao, from the Greek words Theo (god) and broma (food). The Aztecs were also keen admirers of cocoa. It was known as chocolatl and Emperor Montezuma called it a “divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.” With the discovery of the New World, cocoa came to Europe in the 16th century. Since then, the modern chocolate industry developed, and cocoa seeds are now processed in different ways. Sadly, many of these refined forms of chocolate are high in sugar and fat, resulting in clogged arteries, insulin resistance, breakouts and cottage cheese thighs. Since I also care deeply about my health, what is a chocolate lover to do? Enter my hero: raw cacao.

There is a massive difference between refined chocolate “candy” and raw cacao. Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans and removing the fat (cocoa butter). This process keeps the living enzymes intact which means the food is vital and bioavailable. The health benefits of chocolate should be credited to raw cacao, one of nature’s ultimate superfoods. If you’re feeling a need to justify your love affair with chocolate, here are some bliss-boosting facts about raw cacao:

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Boosts Energy
Cacao contains a chemical cousin of caffeine called theobromine (this plant alkaloid is deadly for dogs and cats). Theobromine helps to stimulate the central nervous system, relax smooth muscles, and dilate blood vessels, giving the body a boost of energy. For those that are sensitive to theobromine’s stimulating properties, it is recommended to consume products containing raw cacao early in the day.

Cardiovascular Benefits
The compounds found in cacao may lower blood pressure and enhance circulation by promoting vasodilation through the upregulation of nitric oxide.

Neutralizes Free Radicals
Cacao has neuroprotective effects due to catechins and proanthocyanadins. Catechins are a type of flavonoid that are potent antioxidants, which help protect you from the damaging and aging effects of free radicals. Raw cacao’s high ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) squarely places it in the “superfood” category. It is higher in antioxidants than food such as blueberries and goji berries. It’s important to note that the health benefits of catechins take effect with a daily dosage of 250-500mg. Above 500mg it starts to be too much of a good thing.

Loaded with minerals
Cacao contains high levels of magnesium and iron. Cravings can potentially be an indicator of being low in these nutrients.

Enhances Mood and Well-Being
Cacao is known for increasing a state of bliss by naturally boosting serotonin neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Serotonin is our feel-good neurotransmitter and is responsible for feelings of calm and happiness. Cacao also contains phenyl ethylamine (PEA), a brain chemical that is released when we experience deep feeling of love and infatuation. Maybe this is why I love chocolate so much.

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Sources:

Dillinger TL, Barriga P, Escarcega S, Jimenez M, Salazar Lowe D, Grivetti LE. Food of the gods: cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate. J Nutr. 2000; 130: 2057S–2072S.

Engler, M. B., & Engler, M. M. (2006). The Emerging Role of Flavonoid-Rich Cocoa and Chocolate in Cardiovascular Health and Disease. Nutrition Reviews64(3), 109-118. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00194.x

Keen, C. L. (2001). Chocolate: Food as Medicine/Medicine as Food. Journal of the American College of Nutrition20(sup5), 436S-439S. doi:10.1080/07315724.2001.10719181

Nabavi, S., Sureda, A., Daglia, M., Rezaei, P., & Nabavi, S. (2015). Anti-Oxidative Polyphenolic Compounds of Cocoa. Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology16(10), 891-901. doi:10.2174/1389201016666150610160652

Ried, K., Sullivan, T., Fakler, P., Frank, O. R., & Stocks, N. P. (2010). Does chocolate reduce blood pressure? A meta-analysis. BMC Medicine8(1), 39. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-39

Rusconi, M., & Conti, A. (2010). Theobroma cacao L., the Food of the Gods: A scientific approach beyond myths and claims. Pharmacological Research61(1), 5-13. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2009.08.008

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