Cacao, in it's raw, unadulterated form, is a true super-food, and is without a doubt one of the healthiest foods on the planet. However, these days we mostly eat cacao in a processed, heated form (what we call chocolate) with added sugar, dairy, etc. etc. I'll give you more details on what to look for when purchasing cacao, and I'll discuss the specific health benefits, and of course there will be several delicious and super-nutritious recipes for you to explore!
This article was originally published in my February 2012 edition of "Ellen's Healthy Bites". It is published here in two parts. In Part One I cover a brief history of cacao and raw chocolate, and some of the amazing health benefits of this unique plant, and also share two recipes.
Part Two covers the mood-lifting, hormone-shifting, and love enhancing qualities of cacao, and also includes two recipes. These articles are for the chocolate lover in all of us! You will come away with some wonderful insights into how to choose the most health-enhancing cacao/chocolate products, and some simple recipes to try at home.
"The beverage of the gods was Ambrosia, that of man is Chocolate. Both increase the length of life in a prodigious manner." ~ Louis Lewin, MD
Why is it that chocolate eternally tempts?
And why is chocolate is so associated with love?
And can you justify your consumption of it with knowledge of specific health benefits?
In this article we'll be discussing cacao, the raw chocolate bean that all chocolate is made from. And we'll explore the important distinction between the chocolate you may be familiar with eating, and cacao.
We will discuss:
1. A brief history of cacao.
2. The specific health benefits associated with cacao
3. The Mood-lifting, hormone-shifting and love-enhancing effects of cacao (part two)
4. Super-food recipes and cacao-centered concoctions that will delight all the senses.
In the words of David Wolfe, super-foods guru, "Cacao beans are probably the best kept secret in all of food history." Wow. That's quite an assertion. What could possibly warrant such a bold statement?
Before we discuss the details, let me make it clear that cacao, the raw chocolate bean that all chocolate is made from, is a very different "animal" than the Nestle chocolate bar you may be familiar with consuming, and it's even different than those organic 70% cacao-content chocolate bars you can get at your health food store.
My hope for all you choco-holics out there is that with the introduction of raw chocolate and real unprocessed cacao nibs, cacao butter, etc. into your diet, you'll be able to shift your cravings for the heated, processed, adulterated chocolate to the much healthier and life-enhancing real thing!
Cacao beans and processed chocolate (image found at library.thinkquest.org)
Aztec weddings were sealed with an exchange of cacao between bride and groom. This potent plant has long been associated with lovers, so gifting chocolate at Valentine's Day may have a very real historical counterpart.
The native peoples of Central and South America always preferred the bitter chocolate flavor. They ground their cacao beans and mixed them with cayenne and other herbs and spices which enhanced the benefits, but not with cane sugar - that was an invention of the Europeans, which significantly altered the health benefits.
The first milk chocolate bar, produced in 1879, was a co-invention of Swiss chemist Henri Nestle and Swiss chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter.
These days, much of what you find on the shelves of your local store is a much sadder version of the real thing, but luckily, thanks to leaders in the super-foods and raw foods movement, like David Wolfe, cacao has made quite the comeback in the past few years.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CACAO
Pages can literally be filled with the health benefits of Cacao, but I'll just share a few of my favorites below.
Anti-oxidant: Cacao contains the highest concentration of anti-oxidants (those wonderful things that go into our bodies and clean up cellular damage - thus protecting against disease) of any food that we now of. By weight, cacao has more antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, acai, pomegranates, and goji berries COMBINED. WOW! That's some pretty potent stuff.
Blood-sugar stabilizer: Interestingly enough, Cacao contains a significant amount of the mineral Chromium, which is a natural blood-sugar stabilizer. This is good news for anyone with blood sugar concerns - which are becoming rampant in our society.
Stress-reducing and heart protecting: Cacao contains the largest source of magnesium in any food that we know of. Magnesium supports the heart muscle (in fact deficiencies are associated with a variety of heart troubles), relaxes muscles and the nervous system, allows for improved blood flow of oxygen and nutrients through the body, and relieves menstrual cramping. Magnesium is also essential for bone-building, and it greatly increases the alkalinity of the blood, which brings significant health benefits.
It is estimated that around 80% of North Americans are deficient in this major mineral. Cacao has enough magnesium to help reverse deficiencies, if taken regularly in the diet.
Blood-building and nourishing: Cacao contains a large amount of iron per ounce - well over the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance). Iron keeps us free from anemia, and is important in keeping the blood healthy, and bringing energy and oxygen to our cells.
CHECK BACK SOON FOR PART TWO of this article.
And if you're looking for a great source of raw chocolate, my current favorite is Raw Shakti: http://rawshaktichocolate.com
Here are two great recipes to try and enjoy.
Green Pineapple Cacao Smoothie
Note: Amounts used are approximate: You'll want to adjust as necessary for taste and consistency. This recipe makes about two tall glasses of green smoothie goodness! As always, choose organic ingredients whenever possible.
1 1/4 cups frozen or fresh pineapple
1/4 to 1/3 cup coconut milk
2 large handfuls spinach
small handful parsley
1/8 cup or a little more raw cacao nibs
1 to 2 cups filtered water (depending on you preferred consistency)
This delicious smoothie makes a very healthy alternative to the typical mid-afternoon snack of a sugary milk-chocolate bar.
Feel free to add raw cacao nibs to any green smoothie. I happen to really like the taste combo of pineapple, coconut and cacao - but give it a try in other favorite recipes you may have too!
The most-respected authority on Cacao, is super-foods expert David Wolfe (author of the book "Superfoods") and founder of The Longevity Warehouse (www.longevitywarehouse.com), a great place to purchase raw cacao nibs.
Here are a few of my other favorite ways to introduce cacao into your diet
Simply prepare a typical breakfast of steel cut oats, and when you spoon it into your breakfast bowl, stir in a teaspoon or two of raw cacao powder. I like to add coconut milk as well, and a handful of goji berries (another superfood). This is a power-packed breakfast!
Use cacao nibs (the broken pieces of the bean) in place of chocolate chips in your favorite recipes and sprinkle them on your dessert.
You can also add cacao nibs to trail mix, or eat them plain for a real, lasting energy boost.