Whether it is a small treat after dinner, or a major celebration like Easter, Christmas, (or Mothers Day…hint, hint), there are many occasions where chocolate plays a role in our lives. The quality of chocolate varies significantly, with many high in sugar, fat and preservatives but if we strip things back to the raw ingredients we can look at this ‘treat’ in a very different way.
Cacao, the raw, unprocessed form of chocolate, has historically been so highly valued it been used as currency and named the ‘Food of the Gods’. It is a complex food with over 300 nutritional compounds with a range of reputed benefits.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants help to protect the body from potential damage from free radicals, which we can be exposed to through things such as pollution, cooking food at high temperatures and sun exposure. Raw cacao contains polyphenols such as catechins and by weight is thought to have more antioxidants than foods such as blueberries, pomegranate and goji berries. Great for skin health and healthy ageing.
- Energy and relaxation: The magnesium levels of cacao are reputed to support energy production for the heart, brain and muscles. Nerves and muscles also use magnesium as a relaxant, which may also benefit digestion by supporting bowel movements and it may also help to ease period pains.
- Digestion: As well as the benefits of magnesium to support digestion, raw cacao also contains fibre and enzymes to support the digestive process.
- Fell Good Factor: Cacao also contains small quantities of phenylethylamine, which is thought to have an affect on neurotransmitters in the brain. Primarily this increases levels of dopamine, which is responsible for controlling mood and movement helping you to feel happier and more active.
- Healthy Heart: The flavanols and other essential vitamins and minerals in cacao are thought to lower blood pressure and support circulation by dilating blood vessels, reducing ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and increasing ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
- Blood Boost: To further support our energy levels cacao is also rich in iron, manganese and copper, which are all essential for haemoglobin formation for healthy blood cells.
- Brain: The antioxidant flavanols are thought to enhance brain function as they increase brain blood flow, which may impact on learning and memory. So a great ingredient in a pre-exam smoothie.
Unfortunately if raw cacao is heated then many of these benefits become lost. You can either make your own retaining many of the benefits above or opt for a 70%+ dark chocolate, which will contain higher levels of antioxidants but also, be aware of the levels of sugar and fat. Always remember moderation.
For a simple recipe visit: The Food Teacher’s Mother’s Day Recipe