Love yourself & feed yourself chocolate
Many of us are re-discovering the health values that cacao possesses. This nutrient dense exotic bean that grows from the cacao tree has been used medicinally by our ancient ancestors. It has been used to treat diarrhea, intestinal infections, asthma, bronchitis, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, & many, many other health ailments.
In past years, we have come to belief that chocolate is chocolate. It drowned in the reputation of being fattening, high in sugar, raises LDL cholesterol, is high in caffeine, has minimal nutritional value (we have come far), & wreaks havoc on your skin. These claims are true, however, you can be rest assured that it is only cheap & heavily processed industrialized chocolate with hard to pronounce ingredients that holds accountable for these claims.
Chocolate is indeed one of nature's treasured foods. The Mayan and Aztec culture used cacao beans as high value coins and to make a bitter frothy drink. From my learnings I'd like to share some interesting facts about cacao and it's health benefits. What I have found is that not all chocolate is created equal as we tend to think. The compounds & health benefits of chocolate are affected by the way the chocolate is harvested & processed.
(Holding a cacao bean at a raw cacao workshop. It was so neat to hold a cacao bean in its whole form after learning so much about it and falling in love with it. Next time I hope to be holding a cacao pod! )
Hybrid vs. Heirloom Cacao Beans:
Hybrid cacao beans have become popular among industrial farmers who wish to produce a higher yield of chocolate for less labor work. These are favored for mass production of candy bars, baking products, & cheap chocolate bars. Hybrid cacao beans are easier to produce because they don't require as much shade to grow under, farmers don't need to deal with the inconveniences of the environment when there is a high demand to be met for chocolate sales, & the beans can be made disease resistant. Hybrid cacao beans also result in the ease of mono-cropping for farmers, however, this results in environmental problems as well as less nutrient-density & quality of the cacao bean. Heirloom cacao beans are the all around natural & pure cacao beans containing all of their compounds created by nature and have been cross-pollinating as nature intended, not the farmer intentionally breeding it.
Raw Cacao vs. Heated Cacao:
There is a significant difference when it comes to eating cacao in its raw state or heating it at high temperatures. The vitamin C in cacao becomes diminished when it is exposed to high temperatures, as well as the flavanol contents which are the antioxidants. Flavanols are great for healthy skin and detoxification. A study reported the concentrations of flavanols in different types of cacao processing.
Natural~ 34.6 mg/g
Lightly processed~ 13.8 mg/g
Medium processed~ 7.8 mg/g
Heavily processed~ 3.9 mg/g
Why would we want to eat heavily processed chocolate anyway? You deserve the best chocolate!
Heavily processed means that it has been treated in a way to remove the bitter parts of the cacao, change its appearance & texture, & was exposed to high temperatures when melting it. Removing the bitterness means sacrificing the medicinal qualities & antioxidants. But don't worry! There are natural ways that I will share at the end of this post to hide a little of the bitterness of chocolate to make it taste good to your desired pleasure.
- PEA is found in cacao, which is a chemical produced by the brain when we fall in love.
- Native Americans in Panama and the Amazon River drank 7-8 cups daily of bitter chocolate.
- It contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B9, C, & E.
- The Polyphenols (antioxidants) in cacao help to treat against depression.
- Cacao fights bad bacteria in the mouth and prevents tooth decay.
- High in magnesium: magnesium is said to be the most deficient mineral in our diet today. Magnesium relieves PMS cramps, relaxes the muscles, builds strong bones, & fights constipation.
- Theobroma Cacao stands for "Food of the Gods".
- Hot Chocolate beverage lowers your LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol.
- It is high in sulfur which beautifies skin and hair.
- It contains the bliss chemical Anandamide.
- White chocolate does not provide the abundance of nutrients of dark chocolate.
- Cacao scores minimally on caffeine content. 2 ounces of chocolate has 10-60mg of caffeine, whereas a 5 oz cup of coffee has up to 180 mg.
- Healthy Fats: Cacaco is made up mostly of Monounsaturated fats which is the good kind, and has little Polyunsaturated fats which go rancid quickly in the body and cause damage.
- Most of the Saturated fat in cacao is Stearic Acid, which studies have shown it lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Saturated fat enhances calcium absorption & immune function. Remember, half of your cell membrane is made up of saturated fat. Fat soluble vitamins are also present in saturated fat.
- A study showed it imroves arterial flow in smokers.
- It has more anti-oxidants than green tea, fruits, vegetables, & even wine.
- Prevents atherosclerotic plaque.
- It is protective against Cardiovascular Disease.
- In a study, people were fed high levels of dark chocolate and it showed that it protected them against UV damage.
- The soluble fiber in cacao helps prevent weight gain because it takes away hunger & attracts water. It also improves arterial blood flow.
- Studies have shown that even small amounts eaten of dark chocolate improved cholesterol and blood pressure. Consuming it regularly showed to improve heart health & overall vein & artery function.
- It provides the body with Dopamine & Serotonin, which give you that feel good mood.
- Cacao improves the functioning of our neurotransmitters, which transmit messages for bodily functions from neuron to neuron.
To make pure good tasting chocolate at home, you can use natural sources of sugar such as Coconut Sugar/syrup, raw Honey, Rapadura, Date sugar, Maple Syrup, Whole Organic Unrefined Cane Sugar, Molasses, & Stevia. Add spices if you'd like such as Cinnamon & Cayenne. My favorite being Tumeric.
(home-made shiny dark chocolate)
Because of all these health benefits packed in the cacao bean is why we experience a euphoric feeling upon consumption. Cacao soothes the body and nourishes it. Let your body get carried away in the deliciousness of chocolate and all those natural potent compounds this exotic bean has to offer. You might not be able to get away with a Hershey's chocolate bar though :p
Opt for a chocolate bar of 50% cacao or more. Even 50% cacao has been shown to have beneficial effects on lowering blood pressure. A good chocolate bar should only have about 4 ingredients in it and you should be able to pronounce them :) The first ingredient, which makes up the bulk of the product, should say cacao/chocolate. Not sugar. Buy from a company who does give a crap about the cacao they use and where they source it from :) Fair Trade Chocolate bars are great for you and the farmers.
My favorite chocolate companies:
The following can be found at your health grocery store or online.
Edible Goddess: I love the woman who created this company. I know her personally and she is an inspiring & warm-hearted being. Her products are hands-down a trusted source for pure organic natural herbal infused chocolates & other products. She uses heirloom cacao in her chocolates. Visit her chocolates here.
Fearless Chocolate: This is another favorite of mine for raw chocolate on the market. Their ingredients are only raw fair-trade cacao & whole unrefined organic cane sugar. Visit their website here.
These are just three of my top favorites that range in a medium price. There are many other great chocolate bars & raw chocolate bars on the market.
Sacred Chocolate (click here) & Chocolatl (click here) are my other favorites but I've had friends say they are a bit expensive & I also consider these a treat for me.
A square a day may keep the doctors away