Healthy Chocolate – All About Raw Cacao Health Benefits.
Good news, chocolate is healthy, but when I say chocolate, I mean the real stuff, not a freddo frog, or a lindt ball, but raw, organic & pure CACAO that comes straight from the Theobroma Cacao, or better known as the Cacao Tree. This article will provide you with all the healthy facts about Cacao or Pure Chocolate.
Chocolate is delicious, makes us feel good and keeps us coming back for more, but why is it so addictive? Before I address this question, how many of us really know how chocolate is produced and where it comes from?
Where Chocolate Comes From
Chocolate comes from the wonderful Theobroma Cacao Tree, which grows a fruit known as Cacao Pods. Inside each pod are the Cacao Beans and it is from the Cacao Beans that we extract the Cacao Butter, also know as ‘Cocoa Butter’.
Cacao Butter Facts
Cacao Butter is the vegetable fat extracted from the Cacao Beans and it is used to make chocolate products and also often used in baking and desert recipes. It is a highly stable fat, that also contains beneficial antioxidants, as well as having a smooth & silky texture and a subtle, pleasant, chocolaty taste. Cacao Butter is commonly used in skincare and hair care products, as it is highly moisturizing and soothing.
Cacao Beans High In Antioxidants, Minerals & Vitamins
Cacao Beans are sugar-free and are the highest source of Magnesium from a food. They are high in beneficial, anti-oxidants, good fats and minerals such as Zinc, Iron, Calcium and Potassium, as well as Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and Pantothenic acid.
Why Chocolate Makes Us Feel Good
- Theobromine-which is an Alkaloid which is very closely related to Caffeine . Theobromine works as an appetite suppressant and a stimulant. It is the Theobromine that make chocolate toxic and even deadly to dogs, as they are unable to process it.
- Phenylethylamine (PEA)– an adrenal related chemical, which we naturally produce when we are ‘in-love’ and PEA also helps us to stay more focused and alert. It is also able to increase our Serotonin levels, therefore it acts as a very mild & natural anti-depressant, hence the feeling of happiness and the energy boost you often get when indulging in a good old chocolate binge. PEA is also beneficial for women that suffer from PMS symptoms.
- Anandamide – Also known as ‘The Bliss Chemical’, which is a neuro-transmitter that we also naturally manufacture in our brains when we are feeling really happy. The bonus of the Anandamide coming from Cacao Nibs is that it tends to last longer in our bodies than the Anandamide we naturally produce and this is why we may turn to chocolate as a ‘comfort food’.
- Cacao Beans also contain high levels of Flavonoids and especially Epicatechin which is believed to be beneficial for cardiovascular health. Scientific studies have shown that it may help lower blood pressure. Read this report by WebMD on the study that was done using elderly men. The positive results showed that those than consumed a fair amount of chocolate, had lowered blood pressures and a decrease in the mortality rate of Cardiovascular (CVD) death.
Here is a great article on What is Cocoa? from the aptly named, ‘Enjoy Eating Dark Chocolate website’.
How to get the best Health Benefits from eating Cacao
To get the optimal health benefits from chocolate it needs to be eaten in its raw state and not in the highly processed form of a confectionery chocolate bar, as many of the beneficial nutrients in raw chocolate are lost when processed and cooked. As most of us have become very accustomed to sugary, sweet foods, this might not be as initially appealing to our taste buds as that good ol’ bar of Cadbury’s but, with a little discipline and self control you can overcome that unhealthy, addiction to junk chocolate and grow to treasure the slightly bitter and nutty taste of true, pure chocolate, aka Cacao.
There are many ways to enjoy raw Cacao products, below are a few suggestions. It is important to use only Organic Cacao and Fairly Traded, Sustainable Cacao. See Seeds of Change to find out about sustainable Cacao Farming.
- Raw Cacao Beans – you can simply peel and eat them raw, or roast them first. You can also peel and crush them up to add into a smoothie , muesli and a nut mix. You can use them when baking instead of choc chips. Word of warning though, eating some types of raw Cacao Beans is quite a bitter experience and not something children would generally enjoy.
- Raw Cacao Nibs– Cacao Nibs are made from peeling a Cacao Bean and crushing the bean into small pieces, known as ‘Nib’s. These Nibs are very crunchy and nutty and you can naturally sweeten them, or many Cacao manufacturers offer packets of already naturally sweetened Nibs and these are a very moreish snack. Nibs can be eaten raw, sprinkled on your cereal, added to hot chocolate, coffee and smoothies, or use them in baking and desert recipes. For a healthy kids snack, try giving them a little container full of Cacao Nibs, Goji Berries and for older kids you can add in Sunflower, Pumpkin Seeds and Nuts ( all organic of course!).
- Raw Cacao Butter – First you need to gently warm it up a little, so as to soften it and then you can either eat it, or wear it. Raw Cacao Butter is a fantastic moisturizer for the entire body. It makes a delicious lip gloss and you can even use it to moisturize and shine up dry hair, coarse and curly hair. As a food it is great to use instead of butter on sandwiches, rolls and toast, added into smoothies and to make raw food desserts e.g use as an alternative to the cold pressed coconut oil in my Chia Seed and Raw Cacao Puffed Bars.
- Raw Cacao Powder – can be utilized in much the same way as regular cocoa powder e.g for deserts and baking recipes and to make hot chocolate.
- Home made Chocolate Recipes– See these easy recipe from Livestrong.com for Raw Chocolate Bars with Cacao Nibs. I would personally use Organic Palm Sugar rather than Agar Syrup, as Agar Syrup is very high in Fructose. Try this great recipe from Power Super Foods for Vegan Brownies with Almond Cacao Icing
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