Botanical name: Theobroma cacao
Other names: Chocolate, cocoa bean, cacao bean
Theobroma cacao, cacao bean or cocoa bean, (pronounced ka-kow) are the seeds of an Amazonian fruiting tree and source of all chocolate and cocoa products. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called “beans”, embedded in a white pulp. The seeds are the main ingredient of chocolate, while the pulp is used in some countries to prepare a refreshing juice.
Chocolate affects the brain by causing the release of certain neurotransmitters which can trigger emotions, one of which is euphoria. Did you know that chocolate and cacao are not the same? There is a clear distinction between commercial chocolate which has no health benefits and organic dark chocolate, ideally with no added sugar. If you’re a chocolate lover, consider small amounts of raw cacao as a better option.
The Mexican Mayan kings drank up to 30 pure chocolate drinks a day to maintain their vigour and valued the bean so highly that it was used as money. Cacao is derived from Theobroma Cacao beans, which literally means “Food of the Gods”. Cacao contains over 300 compounds including: protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium. Magnesium helps to build strong bones and is a muscle relaxant associated with feelings of calmness. Cacao is also high in sulphur, which helps form strong nails and hair.
In addition, cacao also contains the chemical phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide. PEA is an adrenal-related chemical that we create naturally when we’re excited. It also plays a role in feeling focused and alert because it causes your pulse rate to quicken, resulting in a similar feeling to when we are excited or fall in love! A key element found in cacao helps serotonin and other neurotransmitters to circulate longer in the brain. Monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibitors (MAO inhibitors), a naturally occurring compound, help keep dopamine and anandamide available to the body.
PEA (Phenylethylamine) is also found in cacao beans. It may help lift depression. It is a member of group of plant-based stimulants called methylxanthines. (Caffeine is the most familiar methylxanthine.)
Raw cacao is one of the highest sources of antioxidants, which can assist with the effects of environmental stress and ageing.
Preparation: Take 1 tablespoon of cacao powder in the morning and/or early afternoon, either as a hot chocolate, in a smoothie, or with food. High quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao is also a suitable option.
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