The Heart of Cacao

Theobroma Cacao literally translates to “the food of the gods.” Chocolate is the world’s favorite food. Is it any wonder that such a tempting, indulgent, deeply loved and revered food could also have incredible nutrient potential? German scientist Alexander von Humboldt expounds upon the glory of cacao: “The cocoa bean is a phenomenon, for nowhere else has nature concentrated such a wealth of valuable nourishment in so small a space.” Strictly speaking, when it comes to nutritional superfood powerhouses, raw cacao is not to be confused with its processed cousin, cocoa, which has been cooked and processed with alkali, aluminum, and is stripped bare of essential nutrients. Theobroma Cacao, this intoxicating, truly rich substance of which we speak, originates from what is now present-day Mexico. It was so highly revered that the cacao beans were actually used to pay laborers like coins, truly worth their weight in gold. Montezuma, the emperor of the Aztec empire, says of cacao: “The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink [cacao] permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.”

So where do we begin with the health benefits of cacao? Let’s start with the heart, the organ of love, life, and the circulation of vitality. The cacao bean contains flavanoids, which are phytochemicals that are so potently abundant with antioxidants and minerals that it has been reported to potentially prevent strokes. Cacao butter is chock full of omegas 6 and 9: omega 6 contributing to cellular structural integrity, tissue maintenance, and the body’s responses to inflammation, and omega-9 being important for heart health and blood sugar control. Contrary to popular rumors, truly raw cacao contains very little caffeine. Cacao is the number one source of magnesium on Earth. Magnesium is a crucial dietary element that helps keep blood pressure normal, bones strong, and the heart rhythm steady, as well as a major ingredient in the lining of the myelin sheathes in neurons. MS and Fibromyalgia, as well as Parkinson’s disease, all share a common thread; a lack of myelin sheathes enveloping neurons, whose lack of lubrication causes information to misfire and thus leads to the different difficulties with these aforementioned illnesses. Flavanoids increase cerebral blood flow, and thus increase cognitive capabilities, like memory, retention, and synaptic firing. Cacao is full of metals, minerals, endorphins, and antioxidants. Here are just a few: chromium, anandamide, aka the bliss chemical, theobromine, manganese, zinc, copper, PEA, Tryptophan, reveratrol, vitamin C, Serotonin, and Arginine. Chromium is a metal that has been used by people for weight loss, increasing muscle tone, decreasing body fat, improved athletic performance, and elevated energy. Cacao has twenty times the amount of antioxidants as red wine and green tea.

Cacaco is not a superfood whose benefits are limited solely to the physical body. Raw chocolate contains Arginine, an amino acid known to reduce anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and is quite the potent aphrodesiac. Arginine, anandamide, and PEA are all very powerful chemicals that not only elevate moods but can aid one in attaining a general sense of well-being and outright happiness. So, if it is good for your physical and mental well-being, and enhances your emotional well-being, who is to say that this miraculous food does not also enhance your spiritual fulfillment to boot? Anandamide is known as the bliss chemical, and acts as a neurotransmitter to relay an effect of extreme delight or bliss, comparable to the peace and joy one feels after meditation, a good jog, or a pleasant encounter with a beloved friend or family member. It has been said that cacao is nature’s prozac. David Wolfe, author of Naked Chocolate and passionate raw foods enthusiast, proudly declares: “Cacao is the number one longevity food in the world.” Consumption of raw cacao is a win-win; we are satisfying the body’s need for vital nutrition and getting to enjoy chocolate at the same time! That being said, the best raw chocolates for you to enjoy and also gain health benefits are dairy-free, and contain no refined sugar. Pasteurized dairy will actually kill enzymes and antioxidant prowess. Interestingly enough, women’s bodies naturally crave chocolate during menses because cacao contains iron and magnesium. All the more reason to eat real, raw chocolate, not the processed watered-down version provided by that big guy over in PA. Long past are the days when we avoided chocolate to prevent acne flare-ups, as we realize that the chocolate itself is not the culprit; it is the processed ingredients added into the mix. The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology discovered that raw chocolate may help protect skin from UV damage. The Journal of Nutrition performed an experiment in which they found that drinking a cacao-rich beverage not only improved skin elasticity and hydration, it reduced redness of the skin or uneven skin tones. Yay for beautifying food! Cacao in itself is truly a beauty food, as it contains high levels of sulfur (which is another form of collagen) and helps to develop youthful skin, nails, and connective tissue in general. Sulfur has been said to assist in detoxifying the liver and also support healthy pancreas function.

It is a dream conjured into reality, the idea of a delectable treat also being medicinal in quality. With cacao, we have this dream actualized. If cacao were a pharmaceutical, we would have indeed grasped the greatest medicine of all time. I personally find it a great plus that the remedy is not a pill or tasteless tablet, but a rich, fabulous, malleable substance that can be transformed from bean, to paste, solid bite, to intoxicating elixir beverage. To indulge and to benefit holistically in such a seductive synergy is indeed sinfully satisfying. To your health, joy, and ultimate vitality! (Originally written for Connect to Wellness Magazine February issue in 2015.)