When you hear the word ‘superfood’, the last thing you’re likely to think is ‘chocolate’.
And yet, chocolate actually has a lot more going for it than you might think. It’s a relatively common fact for instance that dark chocolate is actually rather good for you and the only reason that milk chocolate isn’t healthier is really that it’s filled with excess sugar and not that much of the original bean that chocolate is supposed to be made of.
Remove the sugar and focus on the bean – on the cacao – and you have a superfood by any definition.
The list of cacao benefits is as long as it is varied and perhaps this is why raw cacao was considered the ‘drink of the gods’ by the Incas.
The main star of the show though is almost certainly the antioxidant content. You thought dark chocolate was good for you? Well raw cacao contains 4x more than that. That’s also 20 times more than the much-lauded blueberry and 119 times more than bananas. So it’s a lot.
Antioxidants are these days well publicised and most people know that they help to neutralize the free radicals that can otherwise lead to cancer and the physical signs of ageing.
Moreover, antioxidants are generally helpful for keeping the body in check. They prevent the breakdown of cells and support the immune system to help us fend off illness and stay looking younger. Particularly useful when it comes to longevity are the anthocyanins and catechins (found in green tea) which help to keep you looking and feeling younger for longer.
Raw cacao is also good for your mood, in more ways than one. For starters, it contains the neurotransmitters anandamide – which just so happens to be the chemical that we associate with bliss and exhilaration in the brain. It’s also an aphrodisiac thanks to its phenethylamine contents, which trigger the release of endorphins like oxytocin. This is one of the reasons that chocolate has always been traditionally associated with romance!
Then there’s the ability of cacao to balance hormones and the associated mood-swings. It does this by increasing serotonin, as well as various other ‘calming hormones’.
Cacao is good for the heart in another way too. That’s because many of the antioxidants are polyphenols, known for reducing LDL cholesterol (the bad type) while also preventing the arteries from hardening and improving circulation. One study conducted by the Department of Nutrition at University of California, found that cacao was able to thin the blood and as effectively as taking Aspirin, with remarkable potential benefits for the health (1).
Cacao might also be good for weight loss, thanks to the effect of ‘MAO inhibitors’. These have the ability to reduce the appetite and thereby encourage weight loss. They’re included in a lot of weight loss products but you can get them completely naturally with a cup of warm cacao!
Raw cacao is naturally quite bitter to taste, a little like eating a coffee bean. However, raw cacao beans and nibs today will normally go through a fermentation process that preserves the antioxidants while removing the bitter taste. Look for those naturally fermented types to try it for yourself!
Not a fan? Then consider adding a little raw cacao to a smoothie or try mixing it with your morning cereal.