Cacao beans, raw chocolate in its original form right from the tree, is known as a super healthy food or a Superfood. Cacao beans (also known as cacao nuts) have an impressive nutritional profile that stays intact when it is consumed as a raw food. Recent studies are showing a number of surprising benefits of consuming raw dark chocolate.
Nutritional profile of cacao and its related benefits –
- Antioxidants (including resveratrol – like in red wine), which keep us healthy by neutralizing free radicals in our bodies, protecting us from age related health conditions and diseases.
- Magnesium, which is a very important mineral that supports the heart, brain function, muscles of the colon, helps build strong bones, and increase our body’s alkalinity.
- Iron, which is very important for keeping our blood healthy.
- Chromium, which helps to balance our blood sugars.
- Manganese, which is a trace mineral that works with iron to increase oxygen in our blood.
- Zinc, which is important for our skin, our liver, our pancreas and our immune system, as well as playing an important role in many of our body’s enzyme reactions.
- Copper, which is good for our blood and our immune system.
- Vitamin C, which helps the body to absorb iron and supports the formation of collagen. Collagen is needed for growth and repair of tissue cells, bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is totally destroyed when chocolate is cooked.
- Omega 6 Fatty Acids, which can help improve blood cholesterol levels, and can help the body’s insulin levels and blood sugar control. According to David Wolfe (in his book Superfoods) “all cooked and processed chocolate contains rancid omega 6 fatty acids (trans fats) that can cause an inflammatory reaction”.
- PEA (Phenylethylamine), that turns off appetite which can help with weight loss.
Recent scientific studies have revealed some other possible benefits of consuming raw, dark chocolate:
- Reduces inflammation: Dark chocolate is broken down and fermented by healthy bacteria in the gut (the healthy bacteria actually feeds off the chocolate). The fermented chocolate turns into anti-inflammatory compounds and reduces inflammation in the body, including reducing inflammation in the cardiovascular tissues. Very beneficial for the heart.
- Helpful for diabetics: Raw cacao with high flavonol content has been shown to improve the functioning of blood vessels in diabetics, which helps prevent cardiovascular disease.
- Protection for the brain: Epicatechin, a flavonoid found in dark chocolate, could possibly protect the brain after a stroke by shielding nerve cells from damage through increased cellular signals.
- Lowers blood pressure: Dark chocolate has been shown to help nitric oxide metabolism. Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels thereby lowering blood pressure, which protects the heart. Interestingly, nitric oxide metabolism causes an adverse reaction that could damage the lining of the blood vessels, and the polyphenols in cacao protect the body from these reactions.
- Reduced risk of heart attack: Consuming raw chocolate could cause have an effect similar to aspirin. Blood platelet clotting could be reduced, which could decrease the risk of blocked blood vessels, and that can lower the risk of heart attack.
- Help with mood and sleep: Studies are ongoing about the possibility that raw chocolate enhances the action of neurotransmitters and serotonin in the brain, which positively affect both sleep and mood.
What about the caffeine level, the sugar and fat content of raw chocolate?
Raw cacao contains both caffeine and theobromine. According to David Wolfe, the amount of caffeine in a typical serving of raw cacao contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee.
Theobromine is a close chemical relative of caffeine, but is not a stimulant for the nervous system. It is an effective antibacterial and it dilates the cardiovascular system, which helps the heart function more easily. Through clinical testing in 2008, Dr. Gabriel Cousins found that cacao has less effect on the elevation of blood sugar than other caffeine containing foods and beverages. Raw cacao contains about 1% theobromine.
There is no sugar in raw cacao beans.
The fat content is close to 50%, but is still lower than most other nuts. Cacao butter contains some saturated fat (stearic acid) and healthy monounsaturated fat, which do not elevate cholesterol levels. And there is no evidence that links the fat content of raw cacao to obesity. In fact – it has been considered a weight loss food because it contains minerals and PEA (Phenylethylamine) that turn off appetite.
All of the nutritional benefits of cacao or dark chocolate are available to us when the chocolate is raw. Cooking the raw cacao or chocolate and adding unhealthy ingredients (such as refined sugar, harmful fats, chemical flavorings and fillers) to the raw chocolate substantially diminishes the nutritional benefits. So when it comes to cacao, less is more (less processing = more nutritional value).
Interested in making your own healthy, dark chocolate bars or chocolates? It is easy to do, and the best way to have the ultimate treat: chocolate! Click here for the recipe.
Superfoods – Book by David Wolfe
Copyright © 2015 Cathy Ormon Health Coach. All rights reserved.