Theobroma cacao literally translates to the food of the gods. Chocolate is the world’s favorite food. Is it any wonder that such a tempting, indulgent, deeply loved and revered food could also have incredible nutrient potential? German scientist Alexander von Humboldt expounds upon the glory of cacao, “The cocoa bean is a phenomenon, for nowhere else has nature concentrated such a wealth of valuable nourishment in so small a space.” Strictly speaking, when it comes to nutritional superfood powerhouses, raw cacao is not to be confused with its processed cousin, cocoa, which has been cooked and processed with alkali, aluminum, and is stripped bare of essential nutrients. Theobroma cacao, this intoxicating, truly rich substance of which we speak, originates from what is now Mexico. It was so highly revered that the cacao beans were actually used to pay laborers like coins—truly worth their weight in gold. Montezuma, the emperor of the Aztec empire, says of cacao, “The 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.”
Health Benefits of Cacao
So where do we begin with the health benefits of cacao? Let’s start with the heart, the organ of love, life, and the circulation of vitality. The cacao bean contains flavonoids, which are phytochemicals so potently abundant with antioxidants and minerals they have been reported to potentially prevent strokes. Cacao butter is chock full of omegas 6 and 9—omega 6 contributing to cellular structural integrity, tissue maintenance, and the body’s responses to inflammation, and omega 9 important for heart health and blood sugar control. Contrary to popular rumors, truly raw cacao contains very little caffeine. Cacao is the number one source of magnesium on earth. Magnesium is a crucial dietary element that helps keep blood pressure normal, bones strong, and the heart rhythm steady, as well as a major ingredient in the lining of the myelin sheathes in neurons. MS and fibromyalgia, as well as Parkinson’s disease, all share a common thread—a lack of myelin sheaths enveloping neurons, whose lack of lubrication causes information to misfire, thus leading to the different difficulties associated with these illnesses. Flavonoids increase cerebral blood flow, and thus increase cognitive capabilities like memory, retention and synaptic firing. Cacao is full of metals, minerals, endorphins and antioxidants. Here are just a few: chromium, anandamide (aka the bliss chemical), theobromine, manganese, zinc, copper, PEA, tryptophan, resveratrol, vitamin C, serotonin and arginine. Chromium is a metal used by people for weight loss, increasing muscle tone, decreasing body fat, improving athletic performance and elevating energy. Cacao has twenty times the amount of antioxidants of red wine and green tea. Cacao is not a superfood whose benefits are limited solely to the physical body. Raw chocolate contains arginine, an amino acid known to reduce anxiety and blood pressure, and is quite the potent aphrodisiac. Arginine, anandamide, and PEA are all very powerful chemicals that not only elevate moods but can aid in attaining a general sense of well-being and outright happiness. David Wolfe, author of Naked Chocolate and a passionate raw food enthusiast, proudly declares, “Cacao is the number one longevity food in the world.” Consumption of raw cacao is a win-win; we are satisfying the body’s need for vital nutrition and getting to enjoy chocolate at the same time!
The Spiritual Side of Cacao
So if chocolate is good for your physical and mental well-being, and enhances your emotional well-being, who is to say that this miraculous food does not also enhance your spiritual fulfillment to boot? Anandamide is known as the bliss chemical, and acts as a neurotransmitter to relay an effect of extreme delight or bliss, comparable to the peace and joy one feels after meditation, a good jog, or a pleasant encounter with a beloved friend or family member. It has been said that cacao is nature’s Prozac.
How to Choose That being said, the best raw chocolates for you to enjoy and also gain health benefits are dairy-free and contain no refined sugar. Pasteurized dairy actually kills enzymes and antioxidant prowess. Interestingly enough, women’s bodies naturally crave chocolate during menses because cacao contains iron and magnesium. All the more reason to eat real, raw chocolate, not the processed, watered-down version provided by that big guy over in PA. Long past are the days when we avoided chocolate to prevent acne flare-ups, as we realize that the chocolate itself is not the culprit; it is the processed ingredients added into the mix.
The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology reported that raw chocolate may help protect skin from UV damage. Scientists published in The Journal of Nutrition performed an experiment in which they found drinking a cacao-rich beverage not only improved skin elasticity and hydration, it reduced redness of the skin or uneven skin tones. Yeah for beautifying food! Cacao in itself is truly a beauty food, as it contains high levels of sulfur (which is another form of collagen) and helps to develop youthful skin, nails, and connective tissue in general. Sulfur has been said to assist in detoxifying the liver and also supporting healthy pancreas function. It is a dream conjured into reality, the idea of a delectable treat also being medicinal in quality. With cacao, we have this dream actualized. If cacao were a pharmaceutical, we would have indeed grasped the greatest medicine of all time. I personally find it a great plus that the remedy is not a pill or tasteless tablet, but a rich, fabulous, malleable substance that can be transformed from bean to paste, and from solid bite to intoxicating elixir beverage. To indulge and to benefit holistically in such a seductive synergy is indeed sinfully satisfying. To your health, joy and ultimate vitality!
Merissa Marcuccella is founder and CEO of Love Bites Raw Connections based in Thousand Oaks, CA – Rawlovebites.com