Once revered by the Aztecs and Mayans as the ‘food of the gods,’ cacao powder is once again being worshipped by modern day health foodies as a powerful superfood. Made by simply grinding beans of the cacao tree, the resulting powder is packed full of nutrients, antioxidants and magnesium.
Wondering why you reach for chocolate when you’re stressed? Cacao powder also contains phenethylamine (PEA) which is known to act as a mood booster. But don’t go reaching for that chocolate bar just yet; the cacao beans lose almost all of their amazing superfood powers once roasted. When exposed to high heat the molecular structure of the cacao bean changes, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value. Most commercial chocolate is processed at high temperatures, leaving it nutritionally lacking. That’s where cacao steps in.
Cacao is the raw, unprocessed form of the more commonly recognised cocoa powder. It is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. This process keeps the living enzymes in the cacao and removes the fat (cacao butter). What remains is a nutritionally dense raw powder with all enzymes and antioxidants intact.
Improved muscle growth and repair. The magnesium found in abundance in raw cacao allows the body to produce more Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1), which is a major contributor to the growth and strength of muscles.
Cacao can increase levels of certain neurotransmitters that promote a sense of wellbeing. The same chemical that is released when we experience deep feelings of love – phenylethylamine – is also found in cacao.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2006 followed two groups of elderly men for 15 years – one consuming cacao, and one that did not consume cacao. The findings showed that the group that consumed cacao had a 50% reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality and a 47% reduction in all-cause mortality.
A POWERFUL ANTIOXIDANT
Raw cacao harnesses nearly three times the antioxidant level found in green tea. As a potent antioxidant, cacao can repair the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Raw cacao has a surprising amount of fibre, which supports digestion. Cacao also stimulates the body’s production of digestive enzymes.
AVAILABILITY + USES
Cacao powder can be found in health food stores and selected supermarkets across Australia. To benefit, add a tablespoon to smoothies, sprinkle over fruit, or substitute anywhere you might use cocoa in a traditional recipe. You can even make your own raw chocolate by mixing the powder with and equal amount of melted coconut oil, adding honey to taste, and refrigerating in silicone moulds until set.
Tip: It’s important to note that adding dairy to cacao considerably diminishes its health benefits.
So, how do you consume cacao? Check out Sally’s great recipes here.