CACAO: The Superfood with MAJOR Benefits (plus 2 guilt-free recipes!)

cacao

By Amber Alexander

With it being February – and Valentine’s Day – there are images of love and hearts everywhere you go. It’s also a great time to be looking at heart health and how to take excellent care of yourself… with chocolate!

Many of you have probably heard the term, “superfood” being thrown around a lot. “Superfood” is a non-medical word used as an umbrella term to group together foods that have an unusually high antioxidant and nutrient content, which is beneficial in warding off certain illnesses or conditions. It is a hot-ticket term these days and you can find many packaged and/or processed foods in the grocery store claiming health benefits from superfoods (which are fine, but just remember that whole foods are best!).  

My favorite among this long list of wonder foods is CACAO! (Pronounced: ka-cow.) It is essentially raw, unprocessed chocolate. And delicious!

What is so great about this superfood?

Superfoods - Raw Cacao Powder

Raw cacao beans contain possibly the world’s most concentrated source of antioxidants found in any food. They are also extremely high in magnesium, which has been found to be the most common deficient major mineral, even following a balanced diet (it’s estimated that somewhere around 80% of the population are somewhat deficient in magnesium!).

For those concerned with not getting enough iron, it is good to know that each serving of raw cacao beans contains 21% of the recommended daily allowance of iron. And if that is not enough, raw cacao beans have 14 times more flavonoids (antioxidants) than red wine and 21 times more than green tea.

But what does that mean for you?

Cacao has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve circulation and have positive impact on cardiovascular health (such as lowered risk of heart disease). It can lower LDL cholesterol and reduce plaque build up on artery walls. It neutralizes free radicals from environmental pollutants that can cause cardiovascular disease and possibly cancer.

Outside of heart health, cacao aids digestion by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes. It can also boost physical and mental well-being and lower the risk of certain types of cancer.

Here are 5 of my favorite ways to incorporate cacao into my diet:

1. SMOOTHIES. I make a green smoothie with 2 cups of spinach, 2 cups of rice milk, and two cups of fruit/berry blend out of what we have at home. Once blended and smooth, I add 1 or 2 tablespoons of raw cacao powder and blend in.

2. WARM CEREAL. When I have warm cereal for breakfast, like amaranth or steel cut oats, I top it with blueberries, ghee, 1 or 2 teaspoons of raw cacao powder and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup.

3. SNACKING. When making granola or trail mix, I throw in a tablespoon (or two) of raw cacao nibs. (Be careful with this because not only do they have a distinct and somewhat bitter flavor, but cacao is high in caffeine and can definitely give you a big buzz!) They can also be used as a chocolate chip substitute.

4. “COCOA”. Make yourself a cup of hot chocolate by heating one cup of milk of your choice, 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder, 1 tsp honey (or sweetener of your choice), ¼ teaspoon vanilla and a dash of cinnamon.

4. DESSERT. Or, since it IS valentines day and the season of sweet treats after all, try this recipe for delicious and healthier chocolate truffles or this recipe for homemade nutella!

When shopping for cacao, it is important to keep in mind that most cocoa powder and commercial chocolate is processed via the “Dutch method” meaning, it is subjected to scorching temperatures of up to 150°C with the additional aid of solvents, thus destroying most of the nutrients and antioxidants.

Be sure to attain certified organic raw cacao in a powder, nib or whole bean form as the temperature will have never been allowed to exceed 40°C thus allowing all the heat-sensitive vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to remain intact.

As far as the most bang for your buck, raw and unprocessed cacao beans or nibs have the most vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Unroasted cacao powder is a close second and coming in 3rd is high quality dark chocolate (the lower the sugar content and higher the percentage of cacao, the better).

So go ahead, have some chocolate! Without the guilt!

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Amber Alexander

Amber Alexander

Certified Holistic Health Coach at Graceful Existence
As a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Amber Alexander follows her passion for vibrant wellness by supporting others in cultivating greater health and joy, specializing in family nutrition and individuals recently diagnosed with autoimmune diseases and/or food sensitivities.

When not working to make the world a healthier place one person at a time, she can be found on her yoga mat breathing deeply, in her kitchen cooking up nourishing deliciousness for her family and loved ones, or out dancing in the woods. She strives everyday to do at least one thing that infuses her whole being with radiance, joy and strength and believes that a hug can solve almost any quandary.
Amber Alexander

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