By Nanci Katra
Commonly referred to as the ‘food of the Gods’, raw Cacao (not to be confused with cocoa, which is highly processed) is not only the highest food source antioxidant on the ORAC scale, but also contains the stimulating aphrodisiac theobrimine, mood boosting serotonin and tryptophan, a huge amount of phenylethylamine (PEA-aka the ‘love chemical’, due to its ability to increase dopamine) and is one of the most potent food sources of magnesium.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in raw, unprocessed cacao, and assists our body in producing serotonin, the neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation, social behaviour, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual function. When cacao is heated, the amount of serotonin and the ever heat sensitive tryptophan decrease drastically. Raw cacao contains both serotonin and tryptophan, talk about mood food!
My favourite thing about cacao (even more than the deliciously rich and bitter taste), is that it contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a chemical that increases dopamine secretion in our bodies. Dopamine, like serotonin, is a neurotransmitter with slightly different functions. Dopamine plays a significant role in the prevention of Parkinsons, feelings of pleasure and reward, attentiveness, memory, motivation, and sleep. It is the PEA in cacao that contributes to the ‘high’ we receive from it, and can mimic the feeling we get when we have completed a good sweat session, or are in love.
Cacao has a slight stimulating quality due to a component called theobromine (the reason chocolate is lethal for dogs!). It is a vasodilator (widens blood vessels, therefore increases oxygen and decreases blood pressure- also why it’s an aphrodisiac), increases heart rate and brain function, acts as a mild diuretic, and decreases inflammation.
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for over 300 enzyme reactions, and, due to poor farming practices and food processing, most of us are deficient. In regards to mood, magnesium has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier and inhibit the ‘fight or flight’ response we experience when stressed and down, as well as balance our blood sugar, which therefore stabilizes energy and mood. Magnesium in Cacao is well absorbed by the body, but there are many forms that can be used in supplements. Make sure you chat to an informed professional before buying a supplement.
Cacao powder can be used in healthy desserts, such as bliss balls, but my personal favourite is as a hot chocolate drink, mixed with hot water and your favourite natural and unsweetened nut milk.
About the author: Nanci is a Naturopathic Nutritionist (Adv. Dip. Nut Med), Yoga Teacher, Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga Teacher and Singer who believes strongly in the power of food as medicine. She lives by the motto, ‘Food for the body, yoga for the soul’. When she’s not researching her favourite nutrition topics or saluting the sun on land and sea, you’ll find her exploring Sydney’s best hikes and trails, discovering health food hot spots, and hanging out with her dog!
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