Superfood series - C A C A O
I was introduced to cacao in my 20's by a friend and quickly fell in love with it. If you haven't tried it or heard of it you need to get some in your cupboard. It's basically raw chocolate without the dairy or sugar, it's the unprocessed form of cocoa before they churn it up and take all the goodness out. It's great just mixed into cereal, in smoothies, baking and desserts. Now when I make anything chocolatey I use cacao instead of cocoa because it's so much more nutritious.
I knew cacao was rich in magnesium, the great muscle relaxer. I had also read that you should always buy raw organic cacao, the less processing and contaminants the better. I've discovered recently not to have it too late in the day as it can be quite stimulating due to the theobromine. But apart from that I really wasn't sure of what else it had in it apart from tasting amazing. Now after some research I've discovered there are so many incredible benefits to this superfood powder.
a little history
Cacao has a rich history and dates back to before Christ. Cacao beans are the seeds inside the fruits of the cacao tree which are native to the Americas. The Mayans of Central America are believed to have been the first to discover cacao. They learned that the beans inside the cacao pods could be harvested and made into a liquid that would become a treasured Mayan treat. This ritual beverage was shared during betrothal and marriage ceremonies, providing one of the first known links between chocolate and romance and was so prized that it was used as currency. The Latin name for cocoa "Theobroma" literally means, “food of the gods”.
Traditionally cacao was used in the treatment of fever, coughs, pregnancy pains, digestive aid, depression, combat mental fatigue, PMS, aphrodisiac, diuretic and vasodilation - the dilation of blood vessels. Many believed in its health enhancing benefits and it became increasingly popular and spread throughout Europe and other parts of the world.
"Cacao is considered a superfood due to its more than 300 nutrients. It could hardly be "the food of the gods" if it weren't powerful, with nutritional and medicinal value (which in turn gave it value as a currency as well). The vitamins, minerals, and dietary nutrients in cacao include protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. It also has quercetin, flavonoids, flavanols, xanthenes, polyphenols, caffeine, theobromine, phenylethylamine, and anandamide, among others. It has many uses as a stimulant, antibacterial, antioxidant, and protector of the cardiovascular system." - naturalnews.com
So in terms of health and our MS how can cacao directly benefit us?
Maintains Muscle and Nerve Function
Raw cacao is one of the richest food sources of magnesium. It is believed that one of the leading mineral deficiencies in humans today is Magnesium - 80% of americans are deficient. Magnesium is a mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies. Magnesium is key to muscle and nerve function, plus it keeps the heart rhythm steady. Thanks to its high magnesium content, along with the effects of epicatechin, cacao improves muscle structure and enhances nerve function.
Energising / Fights fatigue
Magnesium is one of the key minerals for energy production. Magnesium also helps to protect against osteoporosis, reduces type II diabetes, and lowers blood pressure. Cacao also contains energy and stamina enhancing Theobromine - not to be confused with caffeine.
A neurotransmitter called anandamide, has been isolated in cacao. Anandamide is also produced naturally in the brain. Anandamide is known as "The Bliss Chemical" because it is released while we are feeling great. Cacao contains enzyme inhibitors that decrease our bodies ability to breakdown anandamide. This means that natural anandamide and/or cacao anandamide may stick around longer, making us feel good longer, when we eat cacao.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is transformed into important stress-protective neurotransmitters including serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan is heat sensitive and therefore it is “cooked out” in many high protein foods and in conventional processed chocolate. You get at least 33% more when you use raw cacao. Serotonin is similar in its chemistry to tryptophan and melatonin. Serotonin is the primary neurotransmitter in the human body, it helps us build up our “stress defence shield”.
"A Swiss 2009 study found that in just under two weeks cacao reduced the stress hormone cortisol, improved metabolism, and even improved gut microbial activity". - dailysuperfoodlove.com
Balance Hormonal Mood Swings
Our hormones can directly affect our MS symptoms. Serotonin levels drop dramatically when women are experiencing PMS. Cacao boosts brain levels of serotonin, the feel good brain chemical. The benefits of cacao are proven to boost the brain levels of calming hormones and restore feelings of well-being.
Iron is necessary for red blood cell production so as an iron-rich food, cacao can help fight anaemic symptoms. Iron deficiency has side effects like fatigue and malaise. Because OMS is a plant based pescatarian diet I'm always conscious of my iron levels. So it's good to know cacao is a rich vegan source.
I talked about the benefits of antioxidants in depth in my previous post on Acai Powder. If you haven't read it yet, please do as it will help you understand just how important they are for you which may help with your MS symptoms.
Cacao like Acai has an ORAC score of about 100,000 units and actually contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the world. These antioxidants include flavonoids, polyphenols, anthocyanins, catechins, and epicatechins. The short of that is that these antioxidants protect our cells from premature oxidation or cell destruction and keep us looking and feeling younger and healthier for longer.
"By weight, cacao beans have more antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, acai, pomegranates, and goji berries COMBINED. Antioxidants keep you looking young and help fight disease. ORAC antioxidant laboratory analysis confirms that there are over 25,200 antioxidants in a single spoonful of our raw cacao powder! " - realrawfood.com
Chromium is an important trace mineral that helps balance blood sugar. Chromium plays a significant role in detoxifying the liver from alcohols which build up during the fermentation process of sugars and starches when we overeat or make bad food choices. It also has a major influence on blood cleansing.
Weight Control / Appetite Suppressant
Cacao seems to diminish the appetite, apparently this may be due to its monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibitors (MAO inhibitors) . These rare MAO inhibitors actually produce favourable results when consumed by allowing more serotonin and other neurotransmitters to circulate in the brain. According to Dr. Gabriel Cousens, MAO inhibitors facilitate youth regeneration and rejuvenation and encourages weight loss naturally. I definitely notice after my smoothies I have less of an appetite.
Great source of Sulfur
Sulphur is anti-inflammatory, improves flexibility, detoxifies the body, accelerates healing, naturally increases energy and is also fantastic for your hair, skin and nails. I discovered the importance of sulphur when reading Dr Terry Wahls book "The Wahls Protocol". Her 3 cups of antioxidants, 3 cups of greens and 3 cups of sulphur rich fruit and vegetables per day has stayed with me ever since. And it certainly motivates me when I think about her nailing this every single day.
Lowers blood pressure naturally
In a study of 470 men from the Zutphen Elderly study, the benefits of cacao intake are found to reduce blood pressure by patients who took a small amount every evening.
Fights tooth decay
Your dental health has a direct impact on your overall health. Recent studies have discovered that an extract of cocoa powder was even more effective than fluoride in preventing cavities. And this crystalline extract similar to caffeine helps harden teeth enamel. Read about it here.
Rich in Vitamins & Minerals
Calcium, zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese, iron and potassium and vitamins like B1, B2, B3, B5, B9, C, A, and E. Read about the vital role copper plays in our neurological health here.
Protect Your Heart and Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death in the world right now so i've added this to the list because it's too important to discount. Flavonols an anti-inflammatory and heart protective antioxidant found in raw cacao may protect against cardiovascular disease, reduce the risk of stroke, and help improve blood circulation. "Cacao contains over 700 compounds and the complex antioxidants found in it known as polyphenols help reduce ‘bad cholesterol’ and prevent hardening of the arteries. It is mind boggling to think that no heart drug on the market can come close to the protective benefits of cacao". - dailysuperfoodlove.com
It's not hard to understand why cacao is a superfood. It has such a vast array of benefits that can really help soothe our MS symptoms and benefit our general health and wellness. However it is quite a stimulating powder, so like anything I believe moderation should be practised to avoid getting too much of a good thing. I learnt from Dr Terry Wahls that even fruits and vegetables should be changed regularly. I always try and have my smoothies by around 2-3pm as any later the Cacao is too stimulating for winding down in the evenings. Actually just lately i've been feeling like having a break and replacing it with a green smoothie for a while, and then i'll re-introduce it. I'd say listen to your body in that respect. But the benefits i've felt from cacao so far are a clearer head, happy disposition, enhanced concentration and focus, more energy, and while taking it i've had no flare-ups in symptoms and i'm still going from strength to strength in my recovery.