This delish superfood is such an amazing ingredient both nutritionally and physiologically – and also because without it we wouldn’t have choccy!
Cacao as we usually see it in its brown powdery form is made from ground beans from the Theobroma tree, which is grown in Mexico and South America. It’s been used for centuries by the region’s indigenous cultures, and famously by Mayans and Aztecs as a form of currency.
What’s the difference between cacao and cocoa?
To make raw cacao, cocoa beans are cold-pressed and not roasted to preserve their living enzymes and nutritional value.
Cocoa is made by roasting raw cacao, which affects the enzyme content. Always opt for organic and sustainably-sourced cacao where you can.
Nutritional benefits of cacao
Cacao is rich in minerals such as magnesium, iron, potassium, copper, zinc and manganese.
It’s also a potent antioxidant (meaning it bonds with harmful free-radicals to reduce their oxidising effects which damage our skin’s collagen, causing wrinkles). In particular, the high content of flavonoid antioxidants also decrease the oxidisation of ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL. This reduces the chance of it depositing as plaque and fat accumulations in our arteries, as happens when bad cholesterol undergoes the oxidisation process.
As a general rule, the darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants!
Dairy actually inhibits our body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants from raw cacao, which is why it’s best to blend raw cacao with smoothies made from dairy-alternative milks such as almond or coconut milk. This is also another reason to try raw vegan chocolate – very rich, but very yummy.
Cacao’s effects on mood
It’s been touted as a mood-enhancer and mimics the feeling of falling in love by releasing the same chemical, phenylethylamine. It’s a mouthful of a biochemical, but along with serotonin, is one of the mood-benefits of adding cacao to your diet.
However, cacao stimulates our nervous system so it’s not recommended to consume more than 40g per day or have right before bed, when it’s time to signal to our bodies to relax for the evening.
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