A Chocolate a day keeps the doctor away

Yep that’s right you heard it here first – chocolate is totally, 100% good for you! YAY! (Cue our Head of Sales, Leslie, breathing an audible sigh of relief.)

Great, so now we have your full attention we do just need to expand ever so slightly on that statement…..

The basis of chocolate – raw cacao is exceptionally good for you, and as featured in our wonderful recipe this week (find it here) is very easy to use and widely available now.

So first things first, how does cacao differ from the cocoa you may be more familiar with? Has someone just had great fun playing with spellings to confuse you? Well, yes, slightly, but there are also significant nutritional differences between the two.

Cacao (notice the ‘a’ is upfront) is the superstar. Raw, unrefined and made by cold pressing the cacao bean (Theobroma cacao if you want to get all technical), it is available as a powder, chipped into pieces known as cacao nibs or as cacao butter/paste.

This cold pressing process preserves the natural enzymes within the cacao whilst separating the fat content (the cacao butter). So the powder you are left with is just the pure, unadulterated, health promoting powerhouse.

Cocoa on the other hand is roasted at high temperatures which destroys the enzymes and changes the molecular structure of the powder, reducing the overall nutritional content of the product. Before it then hits the supermarket shelves quite a bit of sugar is also added (to ease the bitterness from the roasting) and instant hot chocolate drinks will also have powdered milks, oils, emulsifiers and other bits added too. Doesn’t sound so tempting anymore does it?

But what’s the big deal with cacao anyway? Numerous studies have been done into the health benefits of unrefined cacao and here are just a small summary:

  • It may lower insulin resistance.
  • It may protect your nervous system as it is high in resveratrol, a potent antioxidant also found in red grapes, known for its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.
  • It may shield nerve cells from damage.
  • It may lower your risk of stroke.
  • It may lower blood pressure.
  • It may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease: The antioxidants found in cacao help to maintain healthy levels of nitric oxide (NO) in the body. NO benefits heart health by relaxing blood vessels resulting in reduced blood pressure. However this process also produces toxins which the antioxidants in cacao help to neutralise, further protecting your heart and preventing disease.
  • It is a potent antioxidant and may repair the damage caused by free radicals and may even reduce the risk of certain cancers. In fact, cacao contains far more antioxidants per 100g than acai, goji berries and blueberries. Antioxidants are responsible for a whopping 10% of the weight of raw cacao.
  • It may boost your mood by increasing levels of certain neurotransmitters that promote a sense of well-being. And the same brain chemical that is released when we experience deep feelings of love – phenylethylamine – is found in raw chocolate.
  • It is rich in the minerals Magnesium, Iron, Potassium, Calcium, Zinc, Copper and Manganese (phew) which contribute to the optimal functioning of our bodies as a whole.

Sounding pretty great, right?

It’s an easy swap really, chuck out the cocoa and opt for the raw product instead – you’ll not only get your chocolatey hit but an additional bounty of health benefits as well!

You might be wondering at this point what this has to do with our ingredient spotlight this week as we usually try to link these things together in some way. Well, February is the British Heart Foundation’s ‘Heart Health Month’ and if you cast your minds back to us waxing lyrical about the phenomenal powers of flaxseed (find our ingredient spotlight here), you may remember that one is the promotion optimal cardiovascular health. So we’re keeping things heart focused in February.

The bottom line?

To keep you and your heart <3 fighting fit this February (and beyond!) consider including our old friend flaxseed (found in our PEACE and ENERGY blends) and raw cacao in your diets. Try adding a spoonful of powder to your smoothie or sprinkling some cacao nibs onto your porridge. If (like us) you sometimes just need that fix a tad more quickly however check out the range by Doisy + Dam, they are a favourite at MACACHA HQ with their great flavours in 70% cacao.

And if you’re thinking about chocolatey things to make this February, why not check out our Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cup recipe, they’re the perfect sweet treat to share and totally healthy too!

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Written by Phoebe, Nutritional Therapist BSc DipNT mBANT mNNA mCNHC