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July 3, 2012

Cacao magic. The benefits of raw chocolate.

Everyone loves chocolate. It is said that it mimics the feelings of being in love. It is one of the most popular foods in modern society. Unfortunately most people are eating the wrong kind of chocolate, highly processed and laden with dairy and sugar. Pure chocolate on the other hand is loaded with nutrients and has many health benefits.

Chocolate itself is from seeds of the Theobroma cacao plant, which originates from South America, the West Indies and parts of Africa. Long before Europe discovered America, cacao and its products were used as currency in areas such as Central and South America and Mexico, where the tree was widely cultivated.

Antioxidant power

The cacao bean is actually the seed if the cacao fruit and contains many amazing phytonutrients, such as oligomeric proanthrocyanadins and resveratrol, as well as flavanoid polyphenols – catechin and epicatachin. These are all powerful antioxidants. It is also the highest whole food source of magnesium, which plays a role in over three hundred biochemical reactions in the body and is an anti-stress mineral.

In love with chocolate

Often people eat chocolate when they need cheering up. It contains chemicals that encourage the relaxing brain neurotransmitters to be produced, providing a sense of wellbeing. Cacao has a good level of vitamin C, phenethylamine (PEA, the feel good neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of love!), tryptophan, an amino acid that makes our happy neurotransmitter, serotonin. It also features Omega 6 fatty acids (which when heated in processed, un-raw chocolate, become rancid).

Theobromine for healthy circulation

A caffeine-like compound in cacao called theobromine is a bitter alkaloid that has been shown to increase oxygen flow in various parts of the body, as it is a natural cardiovascular stimulant. It helps improve memory and enhances cognitive function. As it has a vasodilating effect in the body, relaxing the smooth muscles, theobromine can be effective in lowering blood pressure and decreasing the effects of asthma.

Even though theobromine has similarities with caffeine, it has been shown to be not as addictive as caffeine and has less of an impact on the central nervous system. However, it certainly plays a role in some people’s “addiction” to chocolate, which may not be such a bad thing if the chocolate most people were eating wasn’t laden with sugar and artificial additives, which are more likely the cause of the addiction.

In the raw

Once cacao has been roasted it loses some of its nutritional value and in the roasted form is called cocoa. Pure cocoa still has many beneficial properties, but for the real deal, eat it raw where possible. Basically, the more processed the cacao, the less nutritious it becomes and, in particular, begins losing its flavanoid antioxidant properties, as cooking destroys the antioxidants. The addition of milk (in milk chocolate) inhibits the absorption in the body of the beneficial polyphenols.

All chocolate is not the same

Regular processed chocolate bars contribute to tooth decay, weight gain and diabetes because of the sugar, unhealthy fats, dairy and other additives. Raw chocolate has the opposite effect. As mentioned previously, it suppresses appetite and is rich in the mineral chromium which aids weight loss and balances blood sugar levels.

Food of the Gods

Raw chocolate has appetite-suppressant properties and can help control overeating and can play a role in weight loss. It is a natural aphrodisiac and has long been associated with lovers and sensuality. The ancient Aztec civilization called it the food if the heart and gave chocolate as wedding presents.  Raw chocolate has been called “the food of the Gods”. It is classified as a superfood and there’s nothing better than tucking into a delicious, decadent raw chocolate treat knowing that it is actually good for you.

Article by Jo Rowkins DipNT MBANT, nutritionist and founder of awakening health.

 

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