Have you ever enjoyed the goodness of real chocolate? I’m not talking about those processed, machine-churned, sickly sweet candy bars that line store shelves… I’m talking about raw, unprocessed cacao. While a diet filled with candy bars is pretty catastrophic to your health, a diet with a moderate amount of raw cacao added can be very healthy, indeed.
Raw cacao is made of ground cacao beans, before they are roasted and processed to make chocolate. You can also find the whole beans and grind them yourself, if you prefer. They do taste like dark chocolate, just a more bitter version, without the sugar content. If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll likely love raw cacao — and you’ll be doing your body and mind a world of good by eating it.
Not convinced? Here are eight amazing benefits of eating raw cacao.
It’s teeming with nutrition
When you eat raw cacao, you’re treating your body to a range of B-vitamins, vitamin E, fiber and protein. Raw cacao also contains an abundance of minerals, including iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, calcium, zinc and potassium. This ancient superfood is also rich in healthy fats, including natural saturated fat and oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat you’ll also find in heart-healthy olive oil.
It’s incredibly high in antioxidants
Raw cacao beans are chock full of flavonoid antioxidants, which are linked to combating free radical damage, reducing chronic inflammation, preventing symptoms of premature aging, and potentially helping to prevent a number of illnesses. On top of all of this, flavonoids are linked to protecting the cardiovascular system.
It may lower your risk of heart disease
Speaking of your cardiovascular system, raw cacao has been found to be pretty great for your heart. Research has found that the flavonoid antioxidants found in cacao beans can help improve circulation, and thus lower your risk of coronary heart disease. Cacao is also linked to lowering blood pressure and reducing plaque build-up on the walls of arteries.
It may have important benefits for diabetics
Diabetics are often told to avoid chocolate, and for good reason. The sugary stuff can certainly make blood glucose levels soar. However, unsweetened raw cacao may actually have benefits for those diagnosed with diabetes. On the background of their 2005 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study authors wrote:
“Numerous studies indicate that flavanols may exert significant vascular protection because of their antioxidant properties and increased nitric oxide bioavailability. In turn, nitric oxide bioavailability deeply influences insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and vascular tone. Thus, flavanols may also exert positive metabolic and pressor effects.”
Upon testing the effects of these flavonols on blood pressure and insulin resistance, researchers concluded that dark chocolate was linked to both decreasing blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity in healthy individuals. While more research needs to be done, this is encouraging information.
It may boost your brainpower
Along with protecting your heart, eating raw cacao may also help to protect your brain and many of its vitally important functions. According to the authors of a 2012 publication titled Chocolate in Health and Nutrition:
“Studies on cell cultures have shown that neuroprotective actions of cocoa flavonoids involve a number of effects within the brain, including a potential to protect neurons against injury induced by neurotoxins and an ability to suppress neuroinflammation, and that cocoa may therefore have a potential to promote memory, learning and cognitive function.”
It can energize you
Raw cacao contains naturally occurring caffeine, that magical “wake up juice” that so many of us rely on in the mornings. Adding a sprinkling of cacao to your morning coffee is delicious and a great way to get extra antioxidants into your cup of joe. Or, if you don’t do coffee, add a teaspoon or so of raw cacao to a smoothie for caffeine plus nutrition galore. You’ll be ready to take on the day!
It can help lower your stress levels
Raw cacao contains theobromine, an alkaloid that may help give you an energy boost and may also help to reduce stress. Research has linked eating dark chocolate (the kind with the most cacao intact) to lowered stress levels. Cacao may also help to make serotonin more available in your brain. This can also contribute to lowering of stress levels.
It can make you feel good
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters in our brains that helps us to feel better. So, when you eat raw cacao, you are naturally boosting your mood. Raw cacao also contains a substance known as phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA has been linked to affecting brain chemistry in a similar way to the sensation of falling in love. Powerful stuff!
How to enjoy raw cacao
There are a great many ways to enjoy raw cacao. The following are just a few of them:
- Sprinkle ground raw cacao on salads, dips and yogurt.
- Add some to a smoothie, tea or juice.
- Make an energizing trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and cacao nibs.
- Use ground raw cacao in spice rubs.
- Sweeten with organic coconut crystals or raw honey and use in your favorite desserts — just make sure to skip the sugar!
What’s your favorite way to enjoy raw cacao?
— Tanya Mead