Most everyone has heard about the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, but what isn’t as obvious is that the source of those benefits is from a magical little cacao bean found in the pod of the cacao plant.
Cacao has been used as a health tonic and ceremonial medicine as far back as 1900 BC in Central America and as a ritualistic medicine used by the Aztec and Mayan cultures. Cacao represents life and fertility ingested by royalty in ceremonial rituals. With over 1200 chemical constituents, cacao beans appear to be the most pharmacologically complex food in nature.
Benefits of Cacao: A Powerful Antioxidant
Cacao contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the world. Antioxidants are important for health because they absorb the free radicals that cause damage in the body. Its anti-inflammatory properties are well documented and are associated with lower risk of cancer and degenerative diseases. It is rich in the trace minerals manganese, zinc, iron, copper, and magnesium. As one of the best dietary sources of magnesium — a mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies — with 272 milligrams per 100 grams you can feel good about getting your Mg from this delicious source. Magnesium is important for muscle and nerve function and keeps the heart rhythm steady.
A Feel Good Treat
In addition to cacao’s health benefits, it’s also known for its “feel good” properties. As much as munching on a chocolate bar promotes the “feel good” sentiments. Chocolate and cacao stimulates the brain to release particular neurotransmitters (neurotransmitters are the messengers in our brains that tell our bodies how to act, and that includes mood. Cacao’s ability to act on those neurotransmitters is why it’s known for its mood-enhancing skills.) that can trigger emotions — including good ones like euphoria. That’s why some people say chocolate is better than sex! Anandamide, a lipid found in cacao, is another compound tied to cacao’s feel-good properties. This lipid has been called “the bliss molecule“, because its natural molecular shape represents that of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
As with all foods, the less the cacao bean is processed, the more it maintains its healing properties. This means that you’re best-off consuming cacao in the form of raw cacao powder, or dried nibs, and in recipes featuring other nourishing healing foods.
Fortunately, we have some mouthwatering ways for you to consume raw cacao and reap all of its health benefits.
Urban Remedy features cacao in many of its ready-to-eat foods and shakes. Our Superfood Chaga Bar and Cacao Plant Protein Bars are the perfect on the go snack, while our Raw Cacao Mousse and Tiramisu are two decadently creamy vegan gluten free desserts.
For those who love being in the kitchen, try this make-at-home version of our beloved Mint -Cacao Chip Shake,
Mint Cacao Chip Smoothie
A Day before you plan to enjoy this smoothie, prepare by peeling the bananas, sealing them in a zippered plastic freezer bag or other freezer-proof container, and popping them into the freezer. Freeze a bunch of bananas at once so you’ll always have some on hand for smoothies.
1 1/2 cups (12 fl oz / 375 ml) almond milk (recipe here)
1 1/2 frozen peeled bananas
1 1/2 cups (1 1/2 oz / 45 g) baby spinach leaves
Leaves from 1 1/2 bunches fresh mint
1 tablespoon alcohol-free vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons raw cacao nibs
Liquid stevia, for sweetening (optional)
In a blender, combine the almond milk, bananas, spinach, mint, vanilla, and cinnamon and blend on high speed until the mixture is smooth, about 45 seconds. Then add the cacao nibs and blend for 20 seconds, to break up the nibs and add texture. Pour into a tall glass. Sweeten with stevia to taste, if desired.
Makes 1 serving.