I love soaking up nutritional knowledge (duh) and yesterday, early in the morning, I was surfing the net for fun videos about tradtional nutrition, when I saw some videos on Chocolate and its origins. Yes, from Central America, we know, but it’s such a fascinating (and LONG) process to go from Cocoa Pods to Chocolate Bars! But while I knew Chocolate is good for you in small quantities and low sugar/milk (aka DARK), the less processed the chocolate, the better it gets. This makes sense too, but to the extent that cacao beans are healthy was something I didn’t imagine. Fun fact reading…
Why Unprocessed Cacao is GREAT for You:
Antioxidants: Cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids than any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and black and green teas. In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea. Health benefits of these antioxidants include:
- Promote cardiovascular health – Help dilate bloods vessels, reduce blood clotting, improve circulation, help regulate heartbeat and blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
- Protect from environmental and metabolic toxins – Help repair and resist damage caused by free radicals, and may reduce risk of certain cancers.
Top 10 Food Items for Antioxidant Properties (ORAC Score per 100 grams):
- Unprocessed Raw Cacao – ORAC 28,000
- Acai Berries* – ORAC 18,500 (funny note.. I’ve always thought frozen acai berries made my smoothies taste chocolately)
- Dark Chocolate – ORAC 13,120
- Milk Chocolate – ORAC 6,740
- Prunes – 5,770
- Wolfberry Juice – 3,472
- Pomegranates – 3,307
- Raisins – 2,830
- Blueberries – 2,400
- Blackberries – 2,036
Neurotransmitters: By increasing the levels of specific neurotransmitters in our brains, cacao promotes positive outlook, facilitates rejuvenation and simply helps us feel good.
- Serotonin – Cacao raises the level of serotonin in the brain; thus acts as an anti-depressant, helps reduce PMS symptoms, and promotes a sense of well-being.
- Endorphins – Cacao stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasurable sensation similar to the “runner’s high” a jogger feels after running several miles.
- Phenylethylamine – Found in chocolate, phenylethylamine is also created within the brain and released when we are in love. Acts as mild mood elevator and anti-depressant, and helps increase focus and alertness.
- Anandamide – Anandamide is known as the “bliss chemical” because it is released by the brain when we are feeling great. Cacao contains both N-acylethanolamines, believed to temporarily increase the levels of anandamide in the brain, and enzyme inhibitors that slow its breakdown. Promotes relaxation, and helps us feel good longer.
Essential Minerals: Cacao beans are rich in a number of essential minerals, including magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese.
- Magnesium – Cacao seems to be the #1 source of magnesium of any food. Magnesium balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones, and helps regulate heartbeat and blood pressure. Magnesium deficiency, present in 80% of Americans, is linked with PMT, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and joint problems.
- Sulfur – Cacao is high in the beauty mineral sulfur. Sulfur builds strong nails and hair, promotes beautiful skin, detoxifies the liver, and supports healthy pancreas functioning.
Essential fats: There is a misperception that chocolate is fattening. In truth, the fats in cocoa butter are healthy fats. Cacao contains oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, also found in olive oil, that may raise good cholesterol. Also, substances found in cacao are known to help reduce appetite (This would explain while I felt so full after eating about 1.6oz of Unsweetened (Baker) Chocolate yesterday).
Aztecs/Maya served chocolate to nobility only (except on big festivals), and always unsweetened from raw cacao beans, which they referred to Food of the Gods! They already knew what’s taken us hundreds of years later to discover. In fact, the official, scientific term for cacao is Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa: Food of the Goods). And the drink the Aztec/Maya drank, which was mainly of cacao, water, vanilla and chili, was the origin of our word Chocolate, (nahuatl: Chocolatl – meaning warm drink).
My next vernture will be to find some raw cacao nips or beans. Organic Unsweetened Chocolate really wasn’t that bad in small quantities, but it’s still miles away from the unprocessed food. Little by little, sugar is falling from my favor!
UPDATE: Until I do more research, I’m sticking with small amounts of unsweetened chocolate. My suspicions about the raw food movement in general led me to do further research in to RAW cacao beans, and apparently there’s MUCH research to suggest that these nuts/seeds are TOXIC when eaten in the raw form. The flesh of the cacao fruit (not the beans we use to chocolate production) is quite tasty, some say, but the seeds are potentially dangerous – just like an apple.. Great flesh, but seeds contains many toxins including cyanide. This coincides with the characteristics of most raw legumes, grains, seeds, nuts, etc which need to be fermented/soaked/blanched/roasted/ and so on, before they could be consumed by humans! Once again.. never take these SUPER FOOD reports/crazes at face value. Always do research first. Even without a biochemistry degree, using logic can help to at least deduce whether the pro’s outweigh the con’s.