Now that I have your attention. Cacao “food as medicine in its finest form” (not to be confused with cocoa). The botanical name is Theobroma cacao and it is fondly known as the “Food of the Gods”.
Most people don’t realise cacao is one of the most popular herbs of all time. It has long been cherished by the people of Central and South America. Cacao trees are now growing in tropical locations World wide to fuel a global chocolate obsession. Cacao comes from the cacao tree and the cacao bean is what is used.
High quality cacao has positive effects on cardiovascular and cognitive function, which equates to a healthier heart and brain.
Energetically cacao is warming and to taste it is bitter.
Some of its amazing properties include cardioprotective, immune modulating and neuroprotective. This means that it has been shown to elevate mood, decrease Blood Pressure (BP), increase insulin sensitivity, support healthy cholesterol levels and brain health and reduce inflammation.
The cacao bean is rich in polyphenols (micronutrients with anti-oxidant properties), with most benefits coming from eating the whole bean. Due to the high levels of flavonoids and anti-oxidant properties it can be protective against heart disease. This is done by preserving the cell membrane, preventing the formation of plaque that can clog arteries while improving blood flow to the heart which helps lower BP.
Dark cacao-based chocolate has been shown to reduce high BP while increasing high density lipoproteins (HDL) (the protective and preferred form of cholesterol) and increasing insulin sensitivity therefore reducing the risk of diabetes.
The most consistent mood enhancing benefits come from eating whole chocolate (not literal), rather than individual constituents like theobromine.
Before you buy the cheap chocolate bar, be mindful most popular supermarket purchased chocolate has high levels of refined sugar and low levels of cacao. You need a minimum of 70% cacao to receive the therapeutic benefits of cacao. If you aren’t a fan of dark chocolate, start with a small dose gradually increasing to the 85% cacao based, for increased benefits.
The best cacao-based chocolate and products to buy are organic fair trade, then you know they are ethically produced. This way you know your money is going to the right people and helping to continue the supply of this beautiful soul food.
Other ways to enjoy cacao are by drinking it in hot chocolate, adding it to protein balls, chia pudding, smoothies and in baking. It is available as 100% cacao nibs, cacao powder and as chocolate. Be mindful to avoid Dutch processed cacao as this has a low anti-oxidant content.
If you are sensitive to caffeine then be mindful of the time you consume it, as it does contain low levels of this stimulant. The flip side of this is for some people it helps keep them alert, improves the memory and may increase their attention span.
As a Naturopath I often prescribe 2 pieces of good quality 85% cacao-based chocolate to my clients, guilt free. It is important to be kind to self and allow yourself some of life’s pleasures.
(Photo credits: Love and Lemons, Wholefoods Home Delivered and Food Matters)