As a Holistic Health & Fitness Coach, I have had many people asking me: to be healthy I have to give up all my favorite treats, right? And usually they are talking about some kind of chocolaty treat. Well, that’s where it gets interesting: Raw Cacao, the original unprocessed nibs or powder you get from the Cocoa beans, is good for you and can be part of a very healthy lifestyle.
Let’s see what is in there for us.
First, let’s start with a bit of history and terminology. The Love relationship between Humans and Cacao beans is quite impressive!
- The Cacao tree, a small evergreen tree with big dried seeds called Cacao beans, has been living on Earth for more than 4000 years
- Cocoa is the name of the roasted beans of the Cacao tree
- Cocoa Butter is the fats extracted from the cacao beans
- The Pre-Olmec civilization in Mexico started using raw cacao in 1900 BC
- In the 14th Century, Aztecs and Mayas used Cacao beans as a Currency. To them, those beans were a real treasure on Earth and given from the Gods. They also used to have them for their mood enhancing and aphrodisiac powers
- In the 17th Century, in Europe, cacao beans were regularly used to help heal throat and heart pain
- In 1847, a British Company made the first ever Chocolate bar: it was made of cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar
And this is when it became…tricky. Industrials began processing the beans in order to make them more appealing to the public. And today, unfortunately, we eat a lot of chocolate, but so processed that it does more harm than good to our health….
Now, let’s see what Raw Cacao Beans are made of:
- One of the richest food in antioxidants:
Raw Cacao is extremely rich in powerful antioxidants. The concentration of flavonoids in Raw Cacao is 20 times more important than in green tea, and also much more than in Blueberries or Acai berries, also known for their potent anti-ageing effect.
One of the most potent flavonoid in Raw Cacao is Epicatechin: it has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, that may help decrease the risk of stroke, of heart failure, and even the risk of cancer and diabetes.
Another powerful bioactive antioxidant in Raw Cacao is Resveratrol. Resveratrol protects especially the nervous system: it can cross the blood/brain barrier and therefore is incredibly beneficial to help decrease CNS inflammation (inflammation of the Central Nervous System) and neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer).
- Theobromine: a mild stimulant
This is the "caffeine" in the Raw Cacao. It is very mild and help increase your circulation, your blood flow. As a result, you have more oxygen circulating to your brain and throughout your whole body. Your cells can function at their best and that is what gives you this Energy boost after having some nice Raw Cacao nibs.
Serotonin is also released, and the mix with Oxygen help improve your overall mood , stimulates your brain, makes you more alert and can even make you happier. This is why it can be used to help treat depression.
- Essential minerals and vitamins:
Today, people often lack some essential minerals and vitamins because of poor food quality. Raw Cacao beans are very rich in Potassium, Phosphorus, Copper, Iron, Zinc and Magnesium and in vitamin A, C and E. Those nutrients are vitally essential for your body. They help regulate your metabolism, boost your Immune System, make your bones stronger, help you manage your stress, and therefore protect you from early onset of diseases… Your body can not function properly if any of these is missing.
- Raw Cacao Beans are rich in healthy fats
No, it’s not the type of fat that will make you fatter! It’s the opposite. It is good, healthy, mostly Saturated Fats (see blog about Fats here). Those fats will help balance out your hormones, your blood sugar levels…. So don’t worry. It is the kind of fats we need to get rid of the bad ones. Those fats are sometimes extracted from the beans in what is called Cocoa Butter. Cocoa Butter is great to use in dessert recipes instead of usual pasteurized butter for example (pasteurized foods lose all the enzymes and nutrients and therefore lose all the initial health benefits).
This mix of high-potent antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, fats, and mild stimulant makes it a real health booster. The wide range of health benefits suggested by science are:
- Mood enhancer
- help for depression
- help for diabetes by decreasing insulin resistance
- improves vessel elasticity, and therefore cardiovascular health
- decreases blood pressure
- decreases LDL levels
- neuroprotective, decreases Alzheimer risk
- protects skin from UV damage
- improves gut flora
- decreases stress
- improves endurance
Again, these are health benefits that you may have from Raw Cacao. As soon as the beans are heated at high temperatures, processed, many of those benefits get lost as the process destroys antioxidants and naturally occurring nutrients.
Raw Cacao beans are quite bitter in taste, and not sweet at all. To take this bitterness out, manufacturers often take most of the antioxidants out, and add sweeteners like sugar and/or pasteurized milk. This kills many of its beneficial active compounds. Chocolate, which is the result of roasted cacao, is therefore much less valuable nutritionally. To get most benefits from those sacred beans, you should always choose the darker organic chocolate, at least 70% cacao, and with as little as possible sugar or sweeteners added to it.
White Chocolate, for example, has no Cocoa at all! It is a mix of pasteurized milk, sugar and other chemicals that do no good to you at all…
So my order of preference would be:
1. Raw Cacao nibs
2. Organic Dark Chocolate
3. Cocoa powder
4. Milk Chocolate (to be avoided honestly)
5. White Chocolate (if you want poison, go for it)
Because of its stimulant effect, I wouldn’t recommend to take more than 1-2Tbsp of raw cacao nibs per day. The stimulant is very mild and shouldn’t be addictive, but some people might experience some withdrawal effects if they eat too much of it for too long. So as usual, be balanced!! Have some regularly, not too much. As a rule of thumb, always change and vary the types of foods you eat. It makes your whole experience much more interesting!
Hope you enjoyed the read and that it will help you make better choices for your next desserts and treats :-))
In Health and Happiness,