Raw Cacao - Health Benefits & How Much?
Author: Geraldine Horan, Naturopath
Raw cacao and dark chocolate contain many health benefits, that do not apply to sugar-laden milk chocolate.
Raw Cacao v Cocoa
Cocoa has had some heat processing that removes the antioxidant flavonols. But raw cacao contains the greatest amounts of antioxidants measurable on the antioxidant ORAC scale. That’s about 28 times more than found in black tea and more than red wine, blueberries, acai, pomegranates and goji berries combined! Although some benefits remain in cocoa, to gain maximum benefit use raw cacao powder.
Mood effects- Beneficial effects on the brain involve many brain chemicals. These include the neurotransmitter phenylethylamine, or PEA, which is produced when we fall in love, giving us similar feelings of increased mood and excitement. Other brain altering chemicals affected are the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Endorphins, or natural opiates, are raised in the brain, further enhancing our feel-good effect.
Another interesting neurotransmitter is anandamide or the “Bliss” chemical, so named as it is the chemical released when we are feeling fabulous. Cacao allows anandamide to last longer in our bodies.
Theobromine found in cacao is both a relaxant to the nervous system and at the same time a stimulant. Dogs and horses are unable to break it down as quickly and this is one of the reasons that chocolate is dangerous for them.
Cardiovascular- Cacao influences release of a chemical called nitric oxide, whose role is to vaso-dilate, or expand, the blood vessels. This leads to blood pressure lowering effects and can assist circulation in the kidneys, with some protective benefits. Results have found that cocoa and chocolate also reduce inflammation, improve platelet function, raise HDL, and decrease LDL oxidation thus improving cholesterol levels.
Nutrients in Cacao- Other nutrients in cacao are magnesium, which relaxes the nervous system and takes a role in many of the body’s chemical reactions, zinc and chromium which can help with blood sugar regulation, calcium, manganese and potassium. Useful levels of Vitamin C are in raw cacao, but are lost in heating.
Skin Uses- Cacao butter, which is also involved in chocolate manufacture, can be used as a skin cream to keep it supple and moist, including dry skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis.
Weight & Appetite- According to medical doctor and nutritionist, Dr Gabriel Cousens, cacao before meals can diminish your appetite due to the presence of monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibitors (MAO inhibitors). This is why it is often added to weight-loss supplements.
How much? About 2-3 teaspoons of raw cacao or 60 grams is enough in one day to prevent overstimulating effects. And to reduce the bitter taste, add low-carb sweeteners such as xylitol, to prevent the weight gain found in commercial sugar-sweetened chocolate.
So, enjoy your nutritious cacao -in drinks, in foods or a snack of cacao nibs - but not late at night though, or it may be a bit too stimulating and interfere with a good night’s sleep!
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