By Chef Centehua
Cacao has been used as medicine for centuries. The healing properties of chocolate are outstanding. Of course, I am not talking about any of the conventional, sugary, processed, chemical, toxic candy bars. I am talking about real chocolate, the pure and amazing nut. Yes, the cacao bean is actually a nut, like an almond.
Today we can find a variety of raw chocolate bars, as well as whole cacao beans, cacao butter and powder, in health food stores and online. It’s no wonder why modern people are tuning in to this ancient substance. Cacao has been consumed for several centuries in pre-modern Latin America. Many historians believe cacao has been around for at least 2000 yrs. In the book The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe make a case that the earliest linguistic evidence of chocolate consumption stretches back three or even four millennia, to pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Olmec. The word “cacao” is believed to come from the Aztec word “Xocoatl” which refers to a bitter drink made from cacao beans. Theobromine is a bitter alkaloid in the cacao plant; it is also the compound that contributes to chocolate’s role as an aphrodisiac and neurotransmitter. Despite its name, the compound contains no bromine. The name comes from the Greek roots Theo (“god”) and brosi (“food”) meaning “food of the gods.” The Mayans and Aztecs believed cacao had magical or divine properties, suitable for use in most sacred rituals, marriage, births, and deaths. Cacao was valued enough to be used as currency.
Cacao has a profound impact on our mental and physical health. It contains over 300 compounds including protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium. Cacao is also high in sulfur, which helps form strong nails and hair. Eating chocolate could help to sharpen the mind and give a boost to cognitive skills. Consumption of a cacao drink rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours. Increased blood flow to these areas of the brain may help increase performance in specific tasks and boost general alertness over a short period. So go ahead and enjoy chocolate for breakfast!
The findings, unveiled at one of the biggest scientific conferences in America, indicate cacao as being highly effective for the treatment of vascular impairment, including dementia and stroke, and thus for maintaining cardiovascular health.
The study also suggests that the flavanols found in chocolate could be useful in enhancing brain function for people fighting fatigue, sleep deprivation, and even the effects of aging. Ian MacDonald, professor of metabolic physiology at The University of Nottingham, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect increased activity in specific areas of the brains of individuals who had consumed a single drink of flavanol-rich cocoa. The effect is linked to dilation of cerebral blood vessels, allowing more blood — therefore more oxygen — to reach key areas of the brain.
In addition, cacao also contains the chemicals phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide. PEA is an adrenal-related chemical that we create naturally when we’re excited. It causes the pulse rate to quicken, resulting in a similar feeling to being excited or falling in love!
On the ORAC chart, raw cacao powder is at the top of the antioxidant list, with almost four times the amount of antioxidants as Goji berries.
The ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture to measure the effectiveness of antioxidants to absorb free radicals that cause cell and tissue damage.
There is no better source of magnesium than cacao. Magnesium is the most deficient major mineral in the American diet. Magnesium is vital for healthy heart functions, and also helps to build strong bones, relax muscles and create a feeling of calmness.
In the morning, I love drinking a bitter cacao elixir instead of coffee. The medicine is bitter and I enjoy drinking it slowly, feeling grateful with every sip. I feel it connects me to my heart and to my ancestral roots. I remember my nanny in Mexico making a hot, spiced, chocolate drink for my brother and me. And I remember the feelings of warmth and joy from our cups of frothy cocoa. Now I do the same for my family, and the kids also drink a cacao smoothie sweetened with a little raw honey every morning. I hope they do the same with their children and pass on this delicious, healing practice for generations to come.