6 Surprising Health Benefits of Raw Cacao (AKA Chocolate!)
Most of us have probably indulged in chocolate in one form or another at some point. And we know how delicious and enjoyable it can be! Yet sometimes we might ‘overindulge’, and be left with a bit of that less than sweet, post-chocolate guilt.
However, did you know that chocolate, in it’s raw, purest and most natural form (‘cacao’) is actually loaded with beneficial properties? In fact, its health benefits are abundant, and when we consume it in its natural form, it’s a true blessing for our bodies. Native to the Amazon rainforest, the cacao tree produces pods filled with cacao beans. The beans can then be broken into nibs (like raw chocolate drops), or further ground into a fine powder.
Most of the regular ‘chocolate’ bars we’re used to contain very small amounts of cacao, the benefits of which are buried by the addition of dairy (which has been shown to actually stop the absorption of any antioxidants that might be left), additives and excess sugar.
A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains approximately:
- 11 grams of fiber.
- 67% RDA Iron.
- 58% RDA Magnesium.
- 89% RDA Copper.
- 98% RDA Manganese.
- It is also high in zinc, selenium, potassium and phosphorus.
Do bare in mind 100grams (the usual size of a ‘Lindt’ bar, for example) is quite a large amount, and depending on the brand may also contain sugar. So you wouldn’t be consuming it all in one sitting. But a few pieces a day, combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, can be a great addition to your palate and means of nutrient intake.
Anyway, YES, raw cacao is considered to be a SUPERFOOD! So please, sing it from the rooftops – we can actually consume chocolate, guilt-free, and reap the benefits! Read on to discover its amazing properties, and how you can continue to enjoy this delicious gift from mother earth!
- A natural anti-depressant: Cacao contains four scientifically proven ‘happy chemicals’- serotonin, phenylethylamine, tyrosine and tryptophan. These can induce feelings of love, happiness and overall wellness. As a real mood lifter, it’s no wonder we feel somewhat elated after enjoying a bit of choccie.
- It’s loaded with antioxidants: We know by now the modern world is pretty toxic- this includes not just unhealthy food items and pesticides, but also chemicals in beauty and cleaning products, and air pollution we breathe everyday. Free radicals contained in toxins lead to cell and tissue damage, which in turn can cause a host of problems, improper bodily functions and even disease.
Antioxidants play a crucial role in absorbing free radicals, and raw cacao is abundant in them. In fact, it contains 40x more antioxidants than blueberries! Wow- throw those together in your morning smoothie and you’re inviting a super start to your day.
- One of the highest plant-based sources of both magnesium and iron: We need magnesium to assist in many important bodily processes, including regulating muscle and nerve function, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, regulating blood pressure and making bone, protein and DNA. Magnesium can also help calm nerves and anxiety, prevent migraines, regulate digestion and increase energy levels. It also happens to be one of the most deficient minerals in diets of the Western world.
Iron helps to improve brain health, maintain muscle health, prevent anaemia and boost the immune system. So a daily dose of raw, organic cacao can have a profound effect on our overall health.
- High in calcium: Calcium forms approximately 2% of our body weight, and is vital for maintaining good health. However, many of us are deficient in calcium which often leads to diseases such as osteoporosis. Not only is it necessary for strong bones and teeth, it’s also been shown to help reduce obesity and could even help to prevent colon cancer. Much like other plant-based foods, raw cacao is very high in calcium (even higher than cow’s milk, with a whopping 160mg per 100g vs 125mg per 100ml).
- It is a source of ‘healthy fats’: There is an ongoing debate surrounding the consumption of fat. But the best thing to bare in mind is that our bodies need fats to function. And there are ‘good’ (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, e.g coconut oil, olive oil) and ‘bad’ fats (saturated and trans fat, e.g. vegetable oil). The fatty acid profile of raw cacao is excellent, consisting of lots of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Though be mindful that it does contain some saturated, which is why cacao should be enjoyed in moderation (like most things in life!).
- Improved brain function – Iron is an oxygen carrier and helps improve cognitive function. Flavonoids improve blood flow to the brain, which can help to boost memory, attention span, reaction time and problem solving skills. Cacao is packed full of both, and regular consumption may also contribute in preventing mental decline conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Whew, that’s quite a list, and only touches on some of the main health benefits this amazing superfood can have. If your interest is piqued, we urge you to do your research and see how else cacao can be of benefit to you! You may even come across some intriguing facts about its history, such as how it was used as an aphrodisiac, a medicine, and even ceremonially by our ancestors…
If you’re eager to start including more cacao into your daily diet, check out a few ways you can incorporate it below:
- Sprinkle cacao nibs on top of cereal, porridge, muesli, etc.
- Stir cacao powder into porridge for a chocolatey-change (who remembers Choco Ready Brek? Now we can recreate that!)
- Make some raw chocolates, using just cacao butter, cacao powder, coconut oil and an optional sweetener such as maple syrup).
- Melt some coconut oil with cacao powder for a quick and healthy chocolate sauce you can drizzle on to pancakes, strawberries, etc!
- Use 1-2tbsp in a blender for a gorgeous, healthy smoothie or milkshake any time of the day. You can combine dates, hazelnuts, blueberries, raspberries, seeds, spirulina, spinach, nut milk etc for a delicious concoction – have some fun and experiment!
- Combine with warm nut milk for a healthy hot chocolate – you can even mix it up with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, chilli, cardamom, or whatever takes your fancy.
- Try it ‘neat’ – just cacao powder and warm or tepid water, for a strong hit of nutrient dense, potent chocolatey magic!
Although overheating can destroy some of the benefits, adding warm milk or water heated very gently can still be beneficial – and much healthier than a standard pre-packaged ‘hot chocolate’! So give it a try and let us know what you think – we’d love to hear what experiments you’ve tried!