This title may sound crazy, but that’s because you are thinking about the chemical concoctions that are simply called “chocolate,” but aren’t really. Did you know the pure raw cacao, which chocolate is made from, is a superfood? In fact, it is one of my favorites and I really do have a piece every day.
Chocolate gets a bad wrap because of everything companies add to it, but in its pure form, the simple way nature intended, it is amazing for your health!
To be clear, cacao is the tree that cocoa and eventually chocolate is made from. The edible parts of the cacao plants’ pods — and the beans inside them — are processed into several different forms, including cocoa powder, cocoa butter, or chocolate after being dried and fermented. Cacao remains “raw” when it is fermented and processed at low temperatures.
Here are seven of raw cacao’s benefits, and some of the reasons why I eat it every day.
1. CACAO IS A FERMENTED FOOD.
Fermented foods are amazing for your gut health.
Cacao must be fermented in order to remove a majority of tannins, which are bitter, water-soluble plant polyphenols that are actually a cool defense mechanism used by many plants to protect their unripe fruits from predators and protect against parasites.
2. CACAO IS AN IMMUNE SYSTEM BOOST
Cacao is rich in flavanols, plant compounds that influence the differentiation and multiplication of friendly-gut bacteria that are your body’s great defender against viruses and bacteria that try to enter your body through food.
And cacao-rich diets change the cell composition of the primary and secondary lymphoid tissues, which are responsible for the production, coordination, and differentiation of your body’s white blood cells. White blood cells, also called leukocytes, come in two basic types that combine to hunt and destroy disease-causing organisms or substances in your body.
RELATED READING: Find six other immune-boosting superfoods in this blog.
3. CACAO HAS 40X MORE ANTIOXIDANTS THAN BLUEBERRIES
Get ready to have your mind blown. Raw cacao has up to 40 times the amount antioxidants of blueberries, and blueberries are already a great option! Cacao has an amazing ORAC score of 98,000 per 100g, vs blueberries at a mere 2,400. Yes, you ORAC scores measure antioxidants’ potential to neutralize free radicals (that are created in your body by stress and toxins in our environment and food). Read more about how important antioxidants are for helping your body fight free radicals in this article. Because free radicals prematurely age your body, cacao is a surprising, but highly effective food for anti-aging.
4. CACAO HAS MORE CALCIUM THAN COW’S MILK
Raw organic cacao has more calcium than cow’s milk, giving your body 160mg per 100g versus 125mg per 100ml of milk.
5. CACAO IS THE HIGHEST PLANT-BASED SOURCE OF IRON
Cacao currently offers the highest plant-based source of iron (7.3mg per 100g). To put that in perspective, beef and lamb have 2.5mg, and spinach have 3.6mg. Note the iron in cacao is non-heme (as is all plant-based iron), so to get the maximum benefits you’ll want to combine it with some vitamin C (examples would be oranges, kiwifruit, or one of my favorite vitamin-C-packed camu camu, which has 40x more vitamin C than oranges!) In general, iron absorption is increased with vitamin C).
6. CACAO IS AN INCREDIBLE SOURCE OF MAGNESIUM
Raw organic cacao is an incredible plant-based source of magnesium, which is one of the most deficient minerals Westerners struggle with. in the Western world. Your body needs magnesium to change glucose into energy and supports a healthy brain and a healthy heart.
7. CACAO NATURALLY BOOSTS YOUR MOOD
Cacao gives your body four neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, anandamide and phenylethylamine) that boost your mood. This makes cacao a great natural way to combat depression and feel happier.
To get these health benefits you must pay close attention to the quality of the cacao that you buy. Cacao beans, nibs, powder, and chocolate squares are all fine, just make sure it’s listed as raw (that means it has been processed at low temps to preserve its nutrients), organic, and if possible Fair Trade.
Fair trade is important because cacao plantations are notorious for the mistreatment of their workers, and even though we’ve known about it for years, big chocolate companies have been very slow to create any lasting change. When you choose products from companies operating at high standards and displaying the Fair Trade Symbol on their packaging, you’re getting a higher quality product and can do something about the health and treatment of the workers.
When I talk about chocolate, people will also ask me if “Dutch processing” to make cocoa powder is ok. It isn’t, actually.
Cocoa powder, which everyone makes hot chocolate from and is used in cheaper chocolates has been chemically processed and roasted, which destroys a large amount of the antioxidants and health properties that makes cacao so amazing.
Dutch processing specifically was created in the 19th century to darken chocolate’s color and mellow out its flavor and is done at too high of a heat. One study showed that between 60% and 90% of the original antioxidants in cacao are destroyed through “Dutch processing.” It doesn’t make sense to destroy one of cacao’s most incredible benefits!
When you choose a healthy, consciously grown and processed cacao product, you’re adding a healthy boost to your diet that you can enjoy daily.
Ready to get started? Here are six simple ways to eat cacao every day.