You mean chocolate?
Not quite. Chocolate is made with Cacao but Cacao is not chocolate.
What is the difference?
Theobroma Cacao is the tree which produces the Cacao fruit, from which chocolate is made.
I start by sharing this because I didn’t know the difference myself and I regularly meet people who don’t know this either.
Why does it matter?
It matters because Cacao has medicinal properties that loose some of their potency when it is processed into cocoa (mostly depending on the temperatures used), which is then used to make chocolate; therefore we can say Cacao and chocolate are not made equal when it comes to their health benefits. However, depending on the process and the cacao percentage, chocolate may still be highly beneficial.
Food of the gods
Cacao was known as the food of the gods by the Mayan and Aztec peoples – It is now more currently referred to as a Superfood by health enthusiasts and for good reason.
Cacao is a complex food that includes ‘over 300 different components’ – packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and mood enhancing components; we’ll look at these individually to better understand this rich plant and how including it in our diet can positively impact our health.
Antioxidants: Cacao is known for being rich in chemical substances known as flavanols, which result in its high concentration of antioxidants. Research published in the Journal of Clinical nutrition reveals that the antioxidants in Cacao are protective of the heart and circulatory system. And it is believed that a diet high in antioxidants may reduce the risk of many diseases (including heart disease and certain cancers). Antioxidants scavenge free radicals from the body cells and prevent or reduce the damage caused by oxidation. Additionally, studies have shown that flavanols have a positive effect on connections between brain cells, offer protection from toxins and can shield the body from some of the damaging effects of inflammation.
Theobromine: This is a mild stimulant that can increase mental concentration; however, unlike caffeine, theobromine is not a central nervous system stimulant and therefore doesn’t typically make you feel on edge or jittery. Additionally, theobromine is non-addictive.
Tryptophan, Anandamide and Phenylethylamine: Cacao contains an amino acid called tryptophan that your brain uses to produce the neurotransmitter Serotonin, which can increase feelings of overall happiness. Cacao also contains the so-called “bliss chemical” Anandamine, a neurotransmitter that is naturally released when you’re feeling great. Anandamide gives a general sense of bliss and happiness. Last but not least phenylethylamine when combined with theobromine can also elevate your mood. Therefore, consuming Cacao naturally supports overall feelings of joy and happiness.
Essential minerals: Cacao beans are loaded with many essential minerals including: magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese. Most significantly, at 507mg per 100g, raw Cacao is the highest known source of magnesium per gram on the planet; an important fact to note, as magnesium deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the Western world.
Essential Vitamins: Raw cacao is a source of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and Pantothenic acid. According to the NHS: “Vitamins and minerals are nutrients your body needs in small amounts to work properly and stay healthy.” Each vitamin plays a different role, enabling different functions in the body and therefore promoting overall health.
What do Drs say?
Different Drs. say different things of course, but I’ve chosen to share the 2 below extracts from articles I’ve found as I find they succinctly present some of the benefits of consuming Cacao.
Dr W. Li says ‘Researchers at the University of California, Davis, determined that bioactives called procyanidins in cocoa have potent antiangiogenic effects through their ability to stop the signals activating blood vessel cells, which can lead to various diseases such as cancer, skin diseases, age-related blindness, diabetic ulcers, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and more.’ and adds ‘At the University of California, San Francisco, researchers explored whether a chocolate drink made with cocoa containing high levels of flavanols could influence stem cells and blood vessel health. Participants who drank the high-flavanol beverage had twice as many stem cells in their circulation compared to the people who drank the low- flavanol cocoa, showing that the more flavanols contained in the product, the more stem cell benefits it boasts.’
M.D., Elizabeth Ko explains: “Researchers from Loma Linda University examined the brain scans of study participants before and after they ate 48 grams of dark chocolate. In the post-chocolate scans, they saw increased activity among certain immune cells in functions like T-cell activation, cellular immune response and in genes involved in neural signaling. That translates to beneficial effects on mood, memory, stress levels and inflammation.”
One thing most Drs. seem to agree on, following research results is that: Raw cacao (beans, nibs and paste) and dark chocolate (70% or above) have considerable health benefits in moderation – the key word here is moderation of course as with all things; too much of a good thing can be bad.
Take into consideration
It is good to be mindful that, in excess, even dark chocolate can be harmful as it is also adding both fat and sugar to your calorie intake. Cacao can also cause some people to feel hyper and then lethargic, in a similar way to caffeine, due to the stimulation provided by the theobromine.
And although the research I found said that Cacao is unlikely to cause physical dependence, I believe mental dependence can occur; by this I mean that even though your body may not feel the lack of a substance you may create a habit and feel the lack when you don’t consume whatever substance you habitually consume and this can happen with Cacao.
Medicine for the Heart
I have intentionally left out the spiritual healing aspect of Cacao until now because I know the more sceptic readers may have stopped reading if I had started with it (Dad, if you’re reading this section I’m impressed haha!!) and the more spiritual readers can only benefit from knowing more about the scientifically proven benefits of Mother Cacao.
In a few words, Cacao is said to open the Heart of those who consume it. It is believed that the spirit of the plant – Ixcacao, helps to heal and expand the Heart, enabling us to Love nature and all living beings unconditionally.
In a world where a large part of humanity seems disconnected from nature and other human beings this natural medicine seems like a glimmer of hope to bring back heart to heart connection. And even if you are not sure you fully believe in this – with such a delicious medicine, I hope many will agree that it’s worth a try.
Please note that the information shared in this article comes from a mix of what I have learnt first hand from Mayan shamans as well Google searches based and what I have previously read and heard over the years. I used the internet to ‘back the facts’ but the reason I am so passionate about Cacao is because I have experienced and witnessed its healing powers myself – in my daily life and in ceremonies, and I wish for all to be blessed with the magic of Ixcacao.
I don’t ask you to take my word or anyone else’s as absolute truth, but I do encourage you to do your own research and as always I think the best way to understand the effects of anything is by taking it yourself and observing how you feel before and after and over a longer period of time as well. You can even do this by keeping a journal and updating it as you see necessary.
Thank you for reading and as always, please feel free to reach out and ask questions or simply share your thoughts.