You can’t beat the mood boosting properties of chocolate but if you are trying to eat a healthy diet and lower your intake of sugar, chocolate appears to be a forbidden food which is just depressing and definitely not boosting our moods.
However my beautiful friends, there is a solution, and it comes in the form of the superfood; cacao!
Chocolate that is a superfood! What could be better?
I use cacao in a lot of recipes and thought it would be a good idea to tell you all about the many benefits and the reason why I love this superfood.
Cacao is different to cocoa even though they come from the same plant, Theobroma Cacao, which can lead to some confusion. So what are the differences and what are the benefits of consuming cacao leading it to be labelled as a superfood?
The Difference between Cacao and Cocoa
Aside from the obvious spelling difference, there are some other vital differences in the processing of these beans that changes the composition of them and therefore the nutritional benefits.
Cacao or cocoa? The difference is all in the processing of the cacao beans.
Cocoa is more commonly used to make the chocolate that we see widely available in most shops. As well as having a lot of other ingredients such as sugar added to it, cocoa is made from raw cacao beans that have been roasted at high temperatures to produce the delicious sweeter chocolate taste that we have become accustomed to, however it is this processing that leads to a reduction in the nutritional content.
Heavier processing turns cacao into cocoa and is the reason a lot of the nutrients are no longer present in cocoa.
Recently we have been hearing a great deal about the benefits of consuming chocolate, however health experts are referring to cacao rather than cocoa which is not usually specified in media articles.
Cacao is the lesser processed bean and is therefore the one that is referred to as a superfood.
Whilst cacao has to go through some form of processing to extract the cacao from the plant, it does not go on to be roasted at high temperatures like cocoa, it is usually made by cold pressing un-roasted beans and therefore retains it’s many nutritional benefits.
There are a lot of companies that claim to sell or use raw cacao in their ingredients, however as there is some processing undertaken to extract the cacao out of the plant, there are is an argument that cacao cannot be classed as raw. Personally, I agree that anything that has gone through some form of processing cannot be classed as raw but this doesn’t mean that cacao powder cannot be classed as a superfood or doesn’t have a higher nutritional value than cocoa powder.
There have been claims by leading health industry experts that Cacao is one of the healthiest foods in the world!
Benefits of Cacao
- Cacao has a high concentration of antioxidants which are vital in helping our bodies repair damage done to our cells by harmful free radicals.
- More information on free radicals can be found here in an easy to read and understand article that explains the good and the bad effects from free radicals.
- Cacao provides us with essential nutrients like magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, manganese and copper.
- Many of us, (thought to be around 80% of the adult population), are deficient in magnesium and cacao beans could well be one of the richest food sources of this mineral.
- Magnesium is necessary for good health and is absolutely crucial in maintaining healthy brains, bones, hearts, muscles and digestive systems.
- Cacao contains compounds called flavanols that recent studies have found help to reduce blood pressure and inflammation and increase the flexibility of blood vessels which may reduce the risk of heart related diseases and problems.
- Cacao contains mood boosting chemicals and compounds that release feel-good endorphins.
- PEA (phenylethylamine) which is a brain chemical known as the ‘love drug’ making us feel happy and can also enhance mental focus and concentration, counter depression and anxiety and improve our moods.
- ANANDAMIDE which is a neurotransmitter that plugs into our happiness receptors within the brain stimulating a release of ‘feel-good’ endorphins that can mimic a natural high, similar to those we get after physical exercise.
- THEOBROMINE which helps to wake up our senses, increasing focus and energy in a calm and relaxing way. This compound also aids healthy circulation by promoting the dilation of our blood vessels.
- TRYPTOPHAN which is metabolised within the body into two of the most important neurotransmitters for mood and sleep regulation; serotonin and melatonin.
Cooking or baking with cacao is obviously heating it and therefore could reduce some of the beneficial nutrients, however there are no studies (that I could find in my research) confirming this at present and I can definitely feel the mood-boosting benefits when I have it in porridge!
It is important to know that there have been studies to show that consuming dairy with cacao can block some of the antioxidant properties and benefits, so always try to use a plant based alternative to ensure that you are getting the most out of this wonderful superfood.
My favourite cacao powder is from Indigo-Herbs of Glastonbury and I use it in all of my recipes.
Some of My Recipes using Cacao Powder
- Healthy Peanut Butter Cups
- Superfood Brownies
- Rocky Road Peanut Butter Pots
- Healthy Rocky Road
- Caramel, Cacao & Chocolate Protein Oat Bakes
- Mood Boosting Chocolate Porridge
So, is it time to swap your usual chocolate bar for a superfood chocolate hit?
With love, Tash ❤ x