One of the most craved, savored, and sought after foods worldwide can also benefit the body in extraordinary ways. Cacao, cocoa, chocolate - no matter how you say it, humans around the globe seek the mouth-watering pleasure and mood-boosting effects of this extraordinary antioxidant.
Cocoa beans are the seed of the fruit tree, Theobroma cacao that grows in the shades of the rainforest between 15-20 degrees North and South of the Equator. All chocolate is made from cacao (pronounced cuh-COW), the edible part of the cocoa bean after it has been harvested, dried, fermented, and hulled. These beans have some of the most valuable nutrients available to us.
Nicknamed "black gold" by the Spanish, the bean-shaped pod is a food that has also been considered a highly beneficial medicine because it contains over 300 identifiable chemical compounds. Unfortunately, many of those properties are destroyed by cooking, processing, and refining. Studies have shown that dairy products actually block the absorption of antioxidants in chocolate. Yet most commercially produced candy and chocolate bars contain low levels of cacao bean compared to other ingredients such as sugars, milk fat, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavorings.
In comparison by weight, cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids than blueberries, red wine, or black and green teas. In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea. The Aztecs called the cacao "yollotl eztli," which literally means "heart blood;" they understood the benefit this truly powerful superfood has on the cardiovascular system.
Pure, raw cacao also has extraordinary potential for helping to support weight loss - quite the opposite from the everyday chocolate bar!
That certain "euphoria" you may feel after consuming your favorite raw cacao treat isn't in your minds! Chocolate has actual compounds with the unique ability to satiate our appetite for pleasure like no other substance.
By increasing the levels of specific neurotransmitters in our brains, cacao can help promote a positive outlook, facilitate rejuvenation, and simply lift our spirits:
- Serotonin - Cacao raises the level of serotonin in the brain and therefore acts as an anti-depressant, promoting an overall sense of well-being.
-Endorphins - These are our natural pain and stress chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Cacao stimulates the secretion of endorphins, which can help to produce a pleasurable feeling.
- Phenylethylamine (PEAs) - PEAs are a natural chemical compound that are also created within the brain and released when we are in love. It acts as a mild mood elevator and an anti-depressant, and it helps increase focus and alertness.
- Anandamide - Anandamide is known as the "bliss chemical" because it is released by the brain when we are feeling happy. Cacao contains both N-acylethanolamines that are believed to temporarily increase the levels of anandamide in the brain and enzyme inhibitors that slow its breakdown. This promotes relaxation for a longer period of time.
As with anything, you can overdo it! The key is to eat minimally processed raw cacao in small amounts - just enough to receive the health-boosting qualities and satisfy those chocolate cravings.
Delicious Cacao Smoothie
2 Frozen Bananas (remove skin, cut into medium size pieces and freeze)
2 Tablespoons Organic Cacao Powder
1 1/2 Cups Almond Milk - more or less, depending on desired thickness
Your choice of sweetener, if desired
A few Goji Berries and/or a Tablespoon of Maca Powder can also be a healthy, delicious combination
Blend all ingredients on high until smooth and creamy. Enjoy!
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