The much touted nutritional benefits or raw cacao range from reducing cataracts to improving heart function to alleviating stress. The theobromine naturally found in raw cacao is a mild, non-addictive stimulant that some believe can treat depression. It may cause the brain to produce more of a neurotransmitter called anandamide which would account for the euphoric sensation some feel when indulging in chocolate. Not much is known about how the ancient civilizations of the Americas used chocolate, but it was certainly treasured by them for medicinal purposes. Nowadays we know that raw cacao is certainly very high in antioxidant flavonoids, sulfur and magnesium. The essential fatty acids found in chocolate may help the body to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. Amongst the loftiest claims in raw food culture is that raw cacao (without added sugar or dairy products) will reduce your risk of cancer as the high levels of antioxidants reduce the amount of free radicals in the body.
Cacao products appear to be heart-healthy as well. One of the main health benefits of cacao is for the arteries in your heart and brain. Eating cacao several times per day may decrease your likelihood of having a stroke or heart attack.
Many of the health benefits, including cardiovascular benefits, of cacao products such as cacao nibs are believed to be due to compounds called polyphenols. The cacao polyphenols are made of 37 percent catechins, 4 percent anthocyanins and 58 percent proanthocyanidins. Cacao polyphenols may improve the health of your heart and brain arteries by serving as antioxidants and inhibiting blood platelets from forming a clot. If your blood cholesterol is somewhat elevated, cacao polyphenols may also lower your low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol, and raise your high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol levels.
Blood Pressure and Glucose
The fiber and polyphenols in cacao may work together to help control your blood pressure and blood glucose levels, as suggested by a recent clinical study in "Food and Function." Blood pressure and blood glucose were lowered by a cocoa-fiber-rich product providing 12 grams of dietary fiber and 283 milligrams of polyphenols per day during the eight-week study period. At least part of the beneficial effect of cacao on your blood sugar level may be due to slowing of starch digestive enzymes by polyphenol procyanidins in your small intestine.
Cacao, the dried seeds of a South American evergreen tree, is used to make cocoa, chocolate and cocoa butter. Cacao has also been used in Mexico and Central and South America for centuries for its healthful and energizing properties. Cacao in its raw, unprocessed state is filled with beneficial nutrients.
Raw cacao can be found in a number of forms, including whole beans, nibs and powder. Raw cacao nibs are made by removing the skin from the cacao seed and cracking it into small pieces. Raw cacao powder is created by processing raw cacao beans through a cold-pressing process with the cacao fat removed. All raw forms of cacao are filled with iron, dietary fiber, calcium, zinc, potassium and antioxidants.
Raw cacao promotes the release of neurotransmitters, which promote a positive outlook and bodily rejuvenation, and release feel-good hormones. Raw cacao raises levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, and acts as an anti-depressant that can help reduce symptoms of PMS. It also stimulates the secretion of endorphins, which produce a pleasurable sensation, and phenylethylamine which is a mild mood booster. It also releases anandamide which promotes elation and helps us feel good longer.
Raw cacao is a rich source of antioxidant flavonoids that promote cardiovascular health and protect against toxins. The antioxidant flavonoids in raw cacao can help improve circulation, regular heartbeat and blood pressure. Additionally, they help the body repair itself and resist free-radical toxins. Raw cacao is most known for being a superfood that is a rich source of antioxidants, but it is also filled with a number of other beneficial nutrients. As a rich source of manganese, raw cacao helps oxygenate the blood. Raw cacao is also a rich source of magnesium, which helps in balancing brain chemistry. It is also rich in sulfur, which builds strong nails and hair, and promotes beautiful skin.
Uses of Raw Cacao
Raw cacao can be combined with natural sweeteners, such as raw nectars and syrups, and dried fruit, to make healthier desserts. It is also a beneficial addition to smoothies, chocolate drinks and trail mixes. Combine 1 tbsp. of raw cacao powder or nibs with one frozen banana for a creamy chocolate banana smoothie.