For about the millionth time, I’m going to talk about how some foods are actually the best medicines we know of.
Whenever I make that claim, most people think I’m referring to kale, brussels sprouts, quinoa, and other less than exciting foods.
The good news is you’re going to get to see how you can add a special form of chocolate to your diet, which can help bring about some desirable changes in your life.
You’ve likely heard of cacao before, but aren’t quite sure what separates it from its cousin cocoa.
The simple answer is: sugar. But the more complicated answer shows you what cacao is and what it isn’t. Hint: it’s not chocolate – not in the way you think of chocolate.
Dr. Axe writes this about cacao:
“Cacao, or Theobroma cacao, is the source of original, natural chocolate. It comes from the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree, but what most of us think of as chocolate contains no cacao at all — which means it does not contain its healthful, nutrient-packed phytochemicals that our bodies need.
Organic, raw cacao is a superfood containing a variety of unique phytonutrients including high amounts of sulfur, magnesium and phenylethylamine.
These characteristics provide many benefits, such as focus and alertness, while also keeping you in a great mood. Cacao nibs have more antioxidant activity than tea, wine, blueberries and even goji berries. Ultimately, it’s the flavonoids in cacao that makes it an above-and-beyond superfood.”
That’s why, if you think you can add some Hershey’s kisses to your protein shake and think you’re making smart choices to benefit your health, you’re fooling yourself.
On the other hand, if you’re using raw, unadulterated cacao in simple sugar-free (or low sugar) recipes, you’re bound to get the full, health-altering benefits it can provide.
If you’re curious about what cacao can actually do for your health, you’ll be interested knowing there’s a staggering amount of evidence showing the presence of a flavanol in cacao (known as epicatechin), which is what makes it so healthy.
Though ancient cultures didn’t realize epicatechin was in the cacao they ate, they knew cacao was capable of making people feel better.
Here’s exactly how it does that:
5 Awesome Benefits Associated With Cacao Consumption
1. It can lift your mood:
A lot of people turn to chocolate in times of stress because they enjoy the ridiculous amounts of sugar and its pleasant taste.
If you know anyone who chooses to eat unrefined, unprocessed dark chocolate, they might be chasing a different sensation. The interesting thing about cacao is it has a chemical structure resembling the chemical structure of the active component in marijuana.
This is why eating chocolate can actually enhance your mood.
True, it’s not as dramatic as strong drugs like marijuana, but that’s a good thing (I’m sure you’ll agree). The way cacao affects mood is it stimulates the production of two neurotransmitters, whose chemical messaging can contribute to feelings of euphoria and tranquility.
One is phenylethylamine (PEA), a chemical that our bodies make naturally. PEA provides you with a sense of focus, and causes your heart to quicken slightly, which can help if your body is depressed.
The other chemical is anandamide, the chemical which resembles the THC found in marijuana. Anandamide can help to promote a feeling of bliss and can help lift mood, which is why its presence in cacao is so appreciated.
2. It can help reduce risk of heart diseases:
Heart disease is one of the deadliest diseases in Western culture. The good news here is regular consumption of cacao can help to reduce heart disease.
Physician Howard Lewine wrote about a study and published his findings on Harvard’s website. The study he focused on indicated men who ate 3.5 oz. of chocolate or more a day were less likely to die of coronary heart disease than men who didn’t eat chocolate.
And as Dr. Axe wrote:
“A study published in Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine reported that epidemiological data shows that regular dietary intake of plant-derived foods and beverages reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.”
In addition, the study demonstrated the beneficial effects of cacao on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and vascular and platelet function.
3. It can help you lose weight:
There are a few ways cacao consumption can work to help you lose weight.
The good news is you don’t have to eat an abnormal amount of it to accomplish this.
The reason cacao is helpful in weight management is it’s high in fiber (this is also one of the reasons it likely benefits heart health).
An ounce of cacao nibs, or raw cacao, will give you 9 grams of heart-healthy, waist-slimming fiber. Eating that much fiber will help to promote a sense of fullness so your appetite doesn’t come roaring back to bite you in the middle of the day.
Bear in mind, cacao is high in fat and calories, so you won’t want to absolutely pig out on it to get more fiber.
4 – It keeps you regular:
This is an obvious follow-up to how it can help you lose weight. Fiber is incredibly important for gut health.
But not all fiber is the same, and some types are a little rougher on the sensitive lining of your intestines than others.
The fiber in cacao is soluble fiber – the easier, more natural form needed for regular bowel movements. Soluble fiber blends with water in the gut, which helps food move effectively (which is necessary for gut health).
Clinical studies that observed the effect of cacao fiber in the diet showed the reduction of constipation is a benefit brought about when cacao fiber was consumed.
5. It can help you restore magnesium levels:
So, I write about magnesium a lot…
This is because most people (an estimated 80%) are deficient in this life-giving mineral.
The good news for cacao lovers is this plant-based food source is one of the richest sources of magnesium you can find. With 272 milligrams of magnesium per 100 grams, adding it to your diet will ensure your daily intake of magnesium is all but guaranteed.
If you need a refresher on why magnesium is essential for your health, take a look at this small list of reasons why:
- It helps you sleep better
- It’s essential for building strong bones
- It prevents muscles from cramping
- It aids in mental processing
- It relieves migraine headaches
- It helps to relieve constipation
And much more.
My Last Parting Thought
If you’re going to get cacao (or chocolate that’s mostly cacao), do your best to get those that are organic and free-trade.
The chocolate/cacao industry can be one of the most awful when it comes to human rights and effects on the environment, and I strongly recommend supporting companies who support their workers.