18 September 2017

Cacao vs. Cocoa + Healthy Benefits of Cacao

Healthy Benefits of Cacao
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.”
― Charles M. Schulz

Mr. Schulz, I completely agree with you; a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt...or does it? Unfortunately, chocolate is NOT compliant with the SCD diet. However, we decided to try raw cacao powder about a year and a half into the diet since we were in full remission and exhibiting no active symptoms of Crohn's disease. While diving into my research on chocolate I learned some fascinating information about this dark indulgence that so many of us love. In order to understand how and why chocolate (cacao) is beneficial to our health, it's important to understand the measures of how it is made and processed.


All chocolate, including the various forms it comes in, starts at the same source: the Theobroma cacao tree. This tree, native to South America, produces seed pods which are then harvested and cracked open to remove the unprocessed, pure cacao (pronounced "cu-COW") beans. From here you end up with either cacao or cocoa powder. They both sound similar but are actually very different, especially when it comes to processing, cost and nutrition. Many of you chocolate lovers know, cocoa and cacao are available in several different forms including nibs, chips, butter, powder, and chocolate bars. All delicious, but are they all equally healthy?

The cacao beans are usually fermented and dried before processing any further. Raw cacao powder is typically made by cold-pressing un-roasted cacao beans. This process allows the enzymes to stay in the cacao and removes the fat, or the cacao butter. When manufacturers chop the cacao beans into small pieces you have cacao nibs, which are full of flavor, slightly bitter and crunchy. Because the processesing is minimal to none, you get all the nutrients and antioxidant power of cacao beans. Cacao butter is made from the fattiest part of the cacao bean. It is actually white in color and slightly resembles white chocolate. You can use it for baking (like I did in this recipe) and even as a moisturizer. Finally, when you take what is left of the cacao bean and grind it into a fine powder you have cacao powder, which can be used in baking, cooking, hot chocolate, smoothies and more.

Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is probably what you remember from your childhood. Cocoa powder and chocolate have been chemically processed and roasted at high temperatures, which destroys a large amount of the antioxidants and flavanols. Flavanols are the beneficial phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients) found naturally in cacao. Since cacao contains such a unique blend of flavanols it is often referred to as a superfood. A common practice in manufacturing cocoa is Dutch processing; the process where the cocoa is treated in an alkalizing chemical agent to modify its color and give it a milder taste compared to "natural cacao." Since cacao is naturally acidic, the taste is sharp and very bold. Dutch processing reduces the bitterness, darkens the color and creates a mild flavor. However, it also eliminates the nutrients and antioxidants. "Natural cocoa powder" will taste more bitter and rich than Dutch-processed cocoa powder, but be cautious because most natural cocoa powder has added ingredients like sugar, preservatives, starches, emulsifiers and dairy. And the same goes for chocolate chips.

Are you confused yet?

In short, the high-heat processing of cacao beans to create cocoa powder and chocolate strips the original source of its nutrients. Therefore cacao, which is minimally processed, is actually higher in antioxidants and nutrients.

5 Healthy Benefits of Eating Raw Organic Cacao

1. A Magnesium Rich Food
Cacao beans are one of the best magnesium-rich foods around. Magnesium is a mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies, and cacao nibs contain 272 milligrams per 100 grams. Magnesium is the second most abundant element inside human cells. It is found in bones, teeth, red blood cells and serves as a building block for DNA and is an essential element required for proper functioning of the nervous, muscular, and cardiovascular systems. Magnesium also helps in the absorption of calcium.

"Theobroma Cacao" literally translates into "Food of the Gods." Cacao contains over 300 compounds including: protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium. Magnesium helps to build strong bones and is a muscle relaxant associated with feelings of calmness. Cacao is also high in sulfur, which helps form strong nails and hair.

2. Excellent Source of Antioxidants
If it is certified as "Organic Raw Cacao" then it is an excellent source of antioxidants, otherwise you are consuming cacao covered in toxins from the spraying of chemicals which are standard practice in growing cacao beans. In addition to the toxic pesticides and fumigation chemicals, it may contain genetically modified (GMO) products.

Organic raw cacao contains 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries! In the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) chart raw cocoa powder is at the top of the antioxidant list. This 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. The higher the ORAC score, the higher the level of antioxidants present in the food.

3. Prevent Aging
Raw cacao has the same polyphenol antioxidants as green tea and red wine. These anthocyanins (found in red wine) can protect your cells from premature destruction and make you feel younger and healthier! Cocoa is also rich in flavonols, potent plant chemicals that encourage blood vessels to relax, keeping them youthful, supple and pliable.

4. Lower Your Blood Pressure
Several studies show that raw cacao has been found to decrease blood pressure. These changes are attributed to the presence of the antioxidants in cocoa that stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which helps to keep blood vessels relaxed. Which also helps in maintaining a healthy circulatory system.

5. Enhances the Mood
Studies have shown that cacao flavonols help to enhance mood, combat depression, and promote improved cognitive activities. Cacao contains the mood booster, anandamide, known as the "bliss molecule," which gives you a feeling of euphoria.

Now, before you dive into your organic raw cacao here are a couple reminders:

Having too much cacao at one time can overstimulate your central nervous system, your heart and even your brain. You can go from feeling hyper to drowsy and quickly crash after the rush.

Remember that cacao nibs are more potent than powder and a little bit can go a long way. It's all about moderation.

In the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle, Elaine clearly states that "Dr. Haas advised not to use cocoa or chocolate and this still goes, it isn't just the sugar he was worried about." Cacao, cocoa and chocolate products are NOT compliant with the SCD diet. Over time, we have introduced cacao with success. If you decide to add something into your diet, monitor the symptoms, write in your food journal and consider getting labs taken.

Shopping list: Organic Raw Cacao Powder, Cacao Nibs, Cacao Butter


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  2. These brownies look delicious! Will you be posting the recipe, or did I miss it?

  3. Hi Misty! Yes, posting later tonight :)

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Explained so well....thsnk you!x

  6. I did not expect to get an answer, and certainly not an in depth complex answer. Thank you. My daughter was telling me the benefits of cacao, as l am just doing well and gradually challenging a few new foods, you answer encourages me to try it. I seem to do very well on fermented foods, so this may be the same. Thank you for your excellent post.

    1. Hi Cindy! Sorry for the late reply. Hopefully you did ok trying cacao? Keep me posted! Hopefully I won't take 6 months to respond next time!! Cheers to a Happy Healthy New Year!


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