Raw cacao powder extracted from cacao beans, which are different from your regular cocoa powder found in the aisles of your local supermarket, is known to reduce depression, anxiety and help lift a person’s mood due to its beneficial qualities.
Raw cacao powder contains compounds like PEA (phenethylamine), which helps trigger endorphins and mood-enhancing chemicals in our brain. Raw cacao powder also contains N-acylethanolamine, a fatty acid, boosts feelings of euphoria and helps decrease depression. Raw cacao powder can be ingested by putting it in smoothies, or you can have cacao nibs. Remember that heating raw cacao makes it devoid of its nutritional benefits.
Depression is a disease that has infected so many of us. It affects our jobs, relationships, lives, and health. Battling with depression is a serious thing and if you have symptoms of depression or any of your family members or friends project these symptoms, immediately seek help.
Suppose you’ve mild depression symptoms, doing things like spending time with your loved ones, exercising, meditating, doing outdoor activities, and eating foods that may help reduce anxiety and boost your mood. In that case, it will help decrease depressive symptoms, and ingesting cacao powder is one of them.
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What is cacao?
The easiest thing to understand is all the chocolate you eat is a form of cacao, but not all cacao is chocolate. Chocolate is made from cacao but is very different from each other.
Cacao can be found in South and Central America, Eastern Africa, and parts of Indonesia.
Cacao powder is raw, unroasted, unprocessed, dried, and ground into a powder derived from cacao seeds. These seeds produce cocoa through fermentation, heating, and processing of raw cacao seeds.
Raw cacao seeds are green or light brown, which looks and tastes nothing like chocolate.
So, cacao isn’t similar to the milk chocolate you’re used to, and eating raw cacao is an acquired taste and not what you expect the flavor will be as you do with regular milk chocolate.
How is cacao different from cocoa and chocolate?
To create a cocoa powder, high temperature is applied to raw cacao beans, ultimately producing chocolate’s sweet, smooth taste and flavor.
The chocolate produced at this point is not sweet, but after manufactures add in sugar and milk, you get the sweetened chocolate flavor that you might very well enjoy in baked goods, hot chocolate, or in the form of a chocolate bar.
Cocoa powder is way less bitter than raw cacao powder, and cocoa powder does lose its nutritional benefits when it undergoes the process of fermenting and heating to make it into cocoa powder.
How does raw cacao powder help reduce depression?
Raw cacao powder is made by cold pressing the cacao beans while retaining nutrients like magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, calcium, and potassium.
Studies show that raw cacao and cocoa helps in reducing depression and alleviate your mood because of the active compounds present in it, like:
- N-acylethanolamine, a fatty acid present in the raw cacao powder, is known to help boosts feelings of euphoria and thereby reduce the symptoms of depression.
- PEA or phenethylamine is present in raw cacao forms which trigger the release of endorphins, the pleasure chemicals in our brain, alleviating our mood. Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitters, acting as the body’s natural pain relievers, and are naturally produced during pleasurable activities like exercise, sexual activity, laughing, and also when you have a painful experience like twisting your ankle.
- Anandamide, coined as the bliss molecule, the first endocannabinoid found in the brain, increases the feelings of euphoria and improves mood.
- Tryptophan, present in the raw cacao, decreases depressive symptoms and acts as a natural anti-depressant. It helps to transform stress into serotonin and melatonin.
- Polyphenols have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and help tame depressive symptoms.
- Salsolinol in the raw cacao powder releases the pleasure neurotransmitter, called dopamine which brightens our mood and reduces anxiety.
5 additional benefits of raw cacao powder
1. It helps reduce high blood pressure
Raw cacao and cocoa can help reduce high blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide levels.
The flavanols in cacao powder increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, improving your blood vessels’ function. It increases the blood flow to your brain and heart and helps in preventing blood clots.
2. It helps reduce the risk of heart diseases
Raw cacao powder is filled with potassium, and potassium is known to help reduce the risk of heart diseases by lowering lower blood stress and inflammation in cells.
Cacao has also been known to reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels. So, by increasing the nitric oxide levels in your blood, cacao helps relax and dilate your arteries and blood vessels to improve your blood flow, and so cacao decreases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.
3. It helps increase the iron levels in the body
If you need a little more iron in your life, then eat raw cacao in different forms. Raw cacao is known to be a great source of plant-based iron.
Cacao can be consumed daily to ensure your body gets enough iron, but make sure not to overdo it. Daily consumption of 40-50g is enough, which is about 4-5 heaped teaspoons of cacao powder.
4. It helps prevent type 2 diabetes
Cacao powder helps in regulating the endocrine system by increasing your insulin levels.
The cacao flavanols help slow down carbohydrate digestion and absorption in your gut, reduce inflammation, and regulate insulin to increase insulin sensitivity.
5. It helps increase your immunity
Cacao powder is quite beneficial to the immune and nervous systems. The flavanols increase your immune system.
So, during times when you feel under the weather, adding cacao powder to your drink or a smoothie can give a boost to your immune system to help fight off any oncoming sickness.
How to include raw cacao powder in your diet
Add raw cacao powder to your smoothies
Be it milkshakes or milk or your regular smoothie, adding a little bit of raw cacao powder will be enough for your daily consumption of the goodness that comes with cacao powder.
Add the cacao powder directly into the drink you’re making, be it your protein shake or a cup of hot/cold chocolate. Keep in mind that raw cacao powder won’t be similar to the taste of chocolate. It’s an acquired taste but great for your body and mind.
Sprinkle cacao powder on your fresh fruits
Eating a bowl of fruits? Add a bit of cacao powder over your freshly cut fruit. It might just turn into some exotic-tasting fruits.
Cacao powder works best with strawberries, bananas, and pineapples.
Add cacao powder to your breakfast smoothie bowl
Adding cacao powder to Greek yogurt or cottage cheese will mask the taste of the cacao powder while also giving you added nutritional benefits.
Adding fruits on top of that will also help mask the flavor of cacao powder. So, get your wholesome meal with cacao powder in it with a dash of cinnamon.
What are the side effects of cacao powder?
Cacao powder might cause caffeine-related issues like increased urination, nervousness, insomnia, and increased palpitations if taken in large quantities.
When is the best time to drink cacao?
You can have cacao first thing in the morning or after a few hours of eating a meal. Drinking cacao in the recommended quantity before bedtime has shown signs of better sleep because of alleviated mood.
Is drinking cacao better than coffee?
Cacao is 99.9% caffeine-free, while coffee has caffeine which in turn, if ingested in large amounts, can cause insomnia and palpitations.
Why is cacao considered a ‘superfood’?
Cacao has many nutritional benefits, like being a great source of potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, and selenium. So, having so many benefits, cacao is naturally considered a ‘superfood.’
Ingesting cacao powder won’t be the answer to battling depression. If you have severe symptoms, seeking professional help is the only answer.
Eating raw cacao powder is a temporary solution that will help alleviate and brighten up your mood and help reduce stress and anxiety. If you battle with consistent tension, anxiety, or depression, knowing the root cause helps fight it off.
But this shouldn’t stop you from having that glass of milkshake or smoothie with raw cacao powder to help you relax and uplift your mood.