Food of the Gods Latin NameTheobroma cacao

NameCacao, Cacahualt, Food of the Gods
Latin NameTheobroma cacao (with the three subspecies Criolla, Forastero and Trinitario)
OriginCentral and South America, cacao is now grown extensively in areas between 20 degrees north and south of the equator.  The trees grow from between 3 – 10 meters high and a mature tree produces around 50 beans, harvested twice a year.
Cultivated/Parts UsedSeeds of the Cacao trees fruit.
History of UseOften called Cacao beans, seeds, nuts or nibs, Cacao beans are the raw ingredient all chocolate is made from.  Originating in Central America, Cacao beans were so revered by ancient cultures they were used as money, so for these people money really did grow on trees!

Mayans inherited their basic knowledge of Cacao from the Olmecs and there are many myths and legends in Central and South America that feature Cacao.  The most notable of these is the legend that the deity ‘Heart of the Sky’ who created all things, fashioned humans from a mixture of elements found in nature, and Cacao.  Cacao was used shamanistically and ritualistically.  
PropertiesCacao increases the overall vigour of the heart muscle due to its high magnesium content and decreases blood coagulation which in turn lowers blood pressure and helps the heart pump more effectively, reducing the likelihood of blood clots and strokes.
May help reduce the risk/symptoms of the following occurringBlood clotsDepressionHardening of the arteries and veinsHeart diseaseHigh blood pressureLow sex driveMenstrual crampingStrokesTooth decay (not when mixed with sugar though!)
Nutritional Breakdown Made up of water, protein, fat, carbohydrate, fibre, iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C and E and at least 300 other identifiable chemical compounds and possibly up to 1,200 chemical constituents, Cacao is the most complex food substance on earth and cannot be synthesised by man.

Cacao contains Serotonin, Tryptophan, Anandamide, Dopamine, PEA and MAO inhibitors which all have a positive effect on brain chemistry.Cacao beans have the highest anti-oxidant concentration of any food are 500 times richer in anti-oxidants than blueberries with a flavonol anti-oxidant count of a whopping 10%!

Research has also shown that the anti-oxidants in Cacao are highly stable and easily available to the human body.  Studies done by Holt R.R., Lazarus S.A., Sullard M.C., et al show the anti-oxidants in Cacao can reach target cells within 30 minutes of it being consumed as a beverage.
How it worksCacao has an abundance of natural anti-stress, anti-depressant and bliss inducing compounds that affect brain chemistry and mood in a positive manner helping to alleviate depression and create feelings of wellbeing and bliss. Some of the neurotransmission compounds within Cacao include:
Anandamide, which is also known as the ‘bliss’ chemical and is released naturally in the brain when we are feeling great.  Anandamide fills the receptor sites in the brain which THC (the active compound in cannabis) binds to, so Cacao can make you feel high, although not to the extent cannabis does!
Dopamine, a mood regulator that helps to limit food in-take and compulsive behaviours whilst increasing mental concentration and positive attitudes.
PEA, an adrenal-related chemical created within the brain and released when we are in love. This is one of the reasons why love and chocolate have a deep correlation. PEA plays a role in increasing focus, alertness and having a positive outlook on life which makes Cacao natures answer to Prozac
Serotonin, an anti-stress neurotransmitter which diminished anxiety and increases our ability to fend off stress
Tryptophan, an anti-depressant amino acid which is critical for the production of serotonin in the brain.

Cacao also contains MAO inhibitors which allow more of these feel good neurotransmitters to circulate in the brain for longer as they block the activity of the enzymes which normally break them down. Happy days!  Cacao is not only great for your mood; it is good for the heart too.  Cacao is rich in magnesium, the primary mineral found to be lacking when heart problems occur.  Magnesium is also the primary mineral that modern diets lack.  Magnesium increases overall vigour of the heart muscle and decreases blood coagulation which lowers blood pressure and helps the heart pump more effectively, reducing the likelihood of blood clots and strokes.  Magnesium also balances brain chemistry and increases brainpower; it helps to create strong bowel movements, reduces menstrual cramping, relaxes muscles, increases flexibility, helps to build strong bones and increases alkalinity within the body.

The body functions best when its systems are slightly alkaline, magnesium’s alkalinity helps open up over 300 different detoxification and elimination pathways.  Cacao is the primary source of magnesium found in nature.  Magnesium aids innumerable functions within the body, too many, in fact, to mention here and we would like to refer you to the fantastic book, Naked Chocolate by David Wolfe and Shazzie for more information.
Contraindications/InteractionsNone known
Instructions For use/dosages Always eat raw for maximum nutritional benefits; many of the beneficial compounds found in Cacao are destroyed upon heating.

When eating Cacao avoid the consumption of dairy produce to gain maximum benefits as it has been shown that the addition of dairy produce actually blocks the body’s ability to absorb anti-oxidants.