“After water, cocoa is the single healthiest substance you can put in your mouth. It can easily replace a number of psychiatric drugs for mood, plus it produces the same chemistry in the brain that occurs when we fall in love.”
– Chris Kilham (a.k.a., "The Medicine Hunter")
This is one of those quotes I truly believe, because the more I get into this wellness research, the more Cacao Chocolate pushed its way up to one of the "Kings of the Nutrition Hill".
And for me, Cacao is one my personal top four or five foods that is "head and shoulders" above all others, for health, wellness, and longevity….so I consume it everyday in my smoothies…………
Food of the Gods? …..it just might be
The ancient Mayans knew a good thing when they saw it and worshiped the cocoa bean as an idol. The Aztecs also held the cocoa bean in high esteem, and their delightful story about its origins involves their creator and god of agriculture, Questzalcoatl.
They believed he traveled to earth on a beam of the morning star carrying a cocoa tree from Paradise, and that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the tree.
Cacao was so revered it was used as currency…….
……. as one European explorer noted of cacao beans that "that four cocoa beans could get you a pumpkin, 10 a rabbit and 100 would buy you a slave".
Columbus' son Ferdinand wrote about a Cacao bean encounter. He was struck by how much value the Native Americans placed on cacao beans, saying……..
……."They seemed to hold these almonds [referring to the cacao beans] at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen."
Cacao, The Quick, Nutrition Science bla-bla-bla…….
Before you make Hershey Bars bars a staple in your diet, it's important to understand that the health benefits of chocolate are mainly due to its rich Flavanoid content. And the more chocolate is processed, the fewer Flavanoids it retains.
Fewer Flavanoids translates to less antioxidant content and less potential health benefits.
Raw chocolate is naturally rich in Flavanoids, which are natural nutrients with antioxidant properties; the same nutrients that make berries, grapes, and green tea health-promoting foods.
Flavonoids that are abundant in raw chocolate can protect your cells against damage by free radicals, which can help to prevent premature aging.
Flavonoids in raw chocolate are good for your heart, as they can help to prevent stickiness of platelets, which are cells that play an important role in blood clotting. Flavonoids can help your body produce nitric oxide, a compound that promotes a healthy cardiovascular system.
There is volumes more on Flavanoids on the web….take a look……..
Flavanoids….the latest craze
I'm sure we'll start hearing that word everywhere, just like antioxidants, Omega-3's, and all the other "latest crazes".
Flavanoids are heavy hitting antioxidants, that have since been credited with most of chocolate’s health benefits. Flavanols affect the way nitric oxide is produced in the body, helping blood vessels to relax, and thereby improving blood flow to the heart, the brain, and extremities.
The Bitter Truth……………..
Good news….flavanoids also may reduce inflammation, and the proliferation of dangerous free radicals produced in regular cell metabolism.
Bad news……at this stage, cocoa powder remains quite bitter. As a result, it’s often processed by treatment with alkali — most commonly sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda — to make it darker, less acidic, and easier to mix into beverages. Unfortunately, this 200-year-old method, also known as "Dutch-processing," has been shown to destroy the active flavanol content by as much as 80%.
Thus, the percentage of cacao contained in a piece of chocolate, whether it’s 60%, 70% or higher, is no indication of its flavanol content, argues Hollenberg in a 2007 editorial in the journal Circulation. He and other nutrition researchers have argued for labeling chocolate products with flavanol values instead.
Any living proof of Cacao Power? The Kuna Tribe in Panama
The Kuna Indians in Panama, who are immune to hypertension, live a good long time, do not gain excess weight, and seem to have less cardiovascular disease and cancer than most of the world, and lower cancer rates than their city-dwelling cousins. They drink 40+ oz of hot cacao/cocoa per day.
An interesting article on the Kuna and Cacao can be found here
Old School Cocoa
The word chocolate is said to derive from the Mayan xocolatl which meant bitter water.
The Kuna Indians drink largely homegrown, unprocessed cocoa powder, containing very high flavanol levels There’s a big difference between the cocoa the Kunas drink, and the cocoa and chocolate people usually purchase in a grocery or specialty store — mostly due to how it’s processed and its formulation. Cocoa beans grow as the seed of the berry-like fruit of the cacao tree, hand picked and shelled…….
After shelling and roasting…..
….the beans are ground into a suspension called cocoa liquor, made up of cocoa butter (fat) and solids. Pressing removes most of the cocoa butter, resulting in a hard, dry cake, which is ground into what we use as cocoa powder.
The traditional Kuna process….get fresh cacao beans, ferment and dry, grind them up….take a pot of water, add 8-10 banana to sweeten, add the ground up cacao/cocoa, strain, drink.
Sometimes, Mayan people added a few grains of black pepper…….
……..to add some taste. Once the powder is obtained, a little bit of water is poured from a calabash bowl to make a paste. The paste is mixed in a bowl of water consumed hot or cold and with or without sugar according to preference. It was very similar to the hot cocoa we know (minus the milk), but few us will fancy the bitter beverage made without a sweetener.
The Aztecs also consumed large quantities of xocolatl as a luxury drink. However their version was described as 'finely ground, soft, foamy, reddish, bitter with chili water, aromatic flowers, vanilla and wild bee honey,'….slightly more inviting than the Maya concoction!
Why can't I just eat a chocolate bar everyday?
* questionable sweeteners and other added ingredients
* very expensive (real cacao bars can be over $8 a piece)
* amount of favanoids may be diminished through processing
* even bars that tout over 70% cacao may have little flavanoids
* there is always a tendency to gravitate to best price as opposed to best quality
* lower price means less Flavanoids
* less bitterness means less Flavanoids
* Hershey Bars means no flavanoids 🙁
I do occasionally grab one of quality cacao bars at Whole Foods when the mood hits me, since I consume so little sugars these days so I can take the hit, but it is something I do maybe once every 2-3 months. With smoothies, its very simple to get my Cacao benefits everyday.
Read my article on choosing Chocolate Bars
As always, my smoothies to the rescue…
……since real Cacao chocolate is very bitter. As I learned with many superfoods that I love, they may not taste so great on their own, so my solution is to throw them into my smoothies.
And trust me, I can make a smoothie that is so scrumptious and fruity and delicious, with sweeteners like Wild Raw Honey and Ripe Banana diced and frozen, it's like milkshake of pure heaven and health 🙂
The Mayans would be proud of me I think…….
above and below
Click photo above or below for recipe
Read Chris Kilham's , a.k.a., "The Medicine Hunter" Cacao article here
an article I wrote on a 110 year old's top 5 foods for his wellness, one of which is cacao, read article here
IMPORTANT: As I learned from a commenter below, a lot of cacao is being tested to have excessive lead and other toxins so be careful. Since I consume cacao every day, I'm going to have to address this for myself. I'll Keep readers posted, but you can see some of the results of popular brands from Natural News Cacao Testing here
(My Nativa Naturals Cacao obtained a grade of "B" from from the "Heavy Metals Verified Ratings Network", though I am going to switch to one of the companies that had a rating of "A" such as
Peruvian Cacao Nibs (Essential Living Foods) Rated A++
Balinese Cacao Nibs (Earth Circle Organics) Rated A++
100% Organic Cacao Nibs (Health Ranger Select) Rated A+