Cacao, Food of the Gods: is Chocolate YOUR Favorite Medicine?
After looking through these interesting facts, we’ll share with you a healthy recipe for a Chia Pudding that includes- yes, CHOCOLATE!
Cacao comes from seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree. What most people think of as chocolate contains no cacao at all, and therefore contains none of its healthful phytochemicals.
The indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica have enjoyed cacao since before the time of Christ. Used as a food, a medicine, and a currency, cacao has been cultivated throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America since the Early Formative Period (1900-900 BC). Cacao was so highly valued that the ancient native peoples celebrated it, immortalizing its place in their society through oral history, stonework, pottery, etc., chronicling its use in rituals and everyday life.
Archaeological sites have found ceramic vessels with cacao residues from the pre-Olmec peoples, from several sites in Mexico and throughout Central America, dating from 1750-1900 BC. Cacao is part of the Mayan Creation Myth, and is believed to be of Divine Origin. The Mayans believe the Plumed Serpent gave cacao to them after humans were created from maize by the divine grandmother goddess, Xmucane. They still celebrate cacao and honor it with an annual festival in April. In a similar way, the Aztecs believe their god Quetzalcoatl discovered cacao. The consumption of cacao was restricted to the society’s elite.
Chocolate can be used therapeutically, but only if it’s the right kind. Chocolate is like anything else: garbage in, garbage out. Consuming poor quality chocolate, such as chocolate loaded with sugar and chemicals, is no more beneficial to your body than drinking a soda.
Is Chocolate YOUR Favorite Medicine? The number of health benefits now associated with the cocoa bean is really quite impressive, including benefits to your body’s heart and blood vessels, brain and nervous system, improved insulin sensitivity, and even possibly slowing down the rate at which your body might age. Cacao’s benefits are related to compounds naturally occurring in the bean, including epicatechin and resveratrol.
- Reduces the Risk of Colorectal or Colon Cancer. The Science and Technology Institute of Food and Nutrition in Spain determined this and published their findings in the journal Molecular Nutrition.
Juicy facts about Cacao
It’s first helpful to understand the distinction between cacao, cocoa and chocolate. Here are some definitions:
- Cacao: Refers to the plant, a small evergreen tree of the species Theobroma cacao, cultivated for its seeds, also known as cacao beans or cocoa beans
- Cocoa: Refers to the powder made from roasted, husked and ground cacao seeds, from which most of the fat has been removed
- Cocoa butter: The fat component of the cacao seed
- Chocolate: The solid food or candy made from a preparation of cacao seeds (roasted); if the cacao seeds are not roasted, then you have “raw chocolate,” which is also typically sweetened
Cacao has been around so long that historians are not sure about the domestication and distribution of cacao. Hypotheses conflict as to whether it originated in the Amazon River Basin and was carried north, or if it originated in southern Mexico and was carried south. The first to grow the beans as a crop is believed to be the Olmec Indians, from 1500-400 BC. By 600 AD, Mayans had migrated to the northern regions of South America, and took cacao with them, establishing plantations.
The closer your cocoa is to its natural raw state, the higher its nutritional value. Ideally, your chocolate or cocoa should be consumed raw (cacao).
When selecting chocolate, you can optimize its nutritional punch by looking for higher cacao and lower sugar content. In general, the darker the chocolate, the higher the cacao. However, cacao is fairly bitter, and the higher the percentage cacao, the more bitter it is. The flavanols are what make the chocolate bitter, so manufacturers often remove them. But, it’s those flavanols that are responsible for many of chocolate’s health benefits.
To counteract the bitterness, most chocolate is sweetened, so it’s a matter of balancing nutritional benefit with palatability. Although raw cacao is the most nutritious form, most of the health studies to date involve consumption of cocoa or chocolate, not raw cacao. But the results are STILL significantly positive. This fact suggests a good portion of the nutritional benefit of chocolate is retained after processing.
Your goal then is to find a chocolate that’s as minimally processed as possible, but still palatable. You don’t want to eliminate too many of the health benefits by eating a product that contains a lot of sugar and chemicals. Choose chocolate with a cocoa/cacao percentage of about 70 or higher. If you can tolerate the flavor of raw cacao, then that’s the absolute best option.
Milk chocolate is not a good choice as it contains pasteurized milk, which is not good for you, and large quantities of sugar. White chocolate is also high in sugar and contains none of the phyto-nutrients, so is not a good choice either. Dark chocolate is your best option.
– Chia Pudding
Prepare a Chia Pudding by stirring together 3 tablespoons of chia seeds and 14 oz coconut milk. Allowing to sit overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, scoop the pudding into a bowl, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon or/and 1 teaspoon of raw cacao powder plus a pinch of natural salt and cayenne powder. Top with fresh berries or any fruit you prefer, and enjoy!
ALWAYS EAT DELICIOUSLY!
TO YOUR GOOD HEALTH!!