Monday, July 15, 2013

Cocoa - Nature's Antidepressant?

One of nature's most sought after foods can benefit the body in a number of ways. Cacao, cocoa, chocolate - no matter how you say it, humans around the globe seek out this mouth watering pleasure and mood-boosting effects of this extraordinary antioxidant.

Cocoa beans are the seed of the fruit tree. Theobroma cacao grows in the shades of the rainforest just slightly north and south of the equator. All chocolate is made from cacao, the edible part of the cocoa bean after it has been harvested, dried, fermented, and hulled. These beans have some of the most valuable nutrients available to us. This bean has been considered a highly beneficial medicine because it contains over 300 identifiable chemical compounds. Many of these compounds are destroyed by cooking, processing and refining. Dairy products block the absorption of antioxidants in chocolate. Yet most commercially produced candy and chocolate bars contain low levels of cacao bean compared to other ingredients such as sugars, milk, fat, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavorings.

In comparison by weight, cacao has more antioxidant  flavonoids than blueberries, red wine, or black and green teas. In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea. The Aztecs called the cacao "heart blood" because they understood the truly beneficial aspects on the cardiovascular system.

That wonderful feeling you get when you consume your favorite raw cacao treat is not in your minds! By increasing the levels of specific neurotransmitters in our brains, cacao helps promote a positive outlook, facilitates rejuvenation, and lifts our spirits. It raises Serotonin, acting as a natural anti-depressant. It increases endorphins which are our natural pain and stress chemicals known as neurotransmitters, thus helping us experience pleasurable feelings. It elevates Phenylethylamine (PEAs) which is the natural chemical compound secreted when we are in love. It elevates mood and acts as an anti-depressant thus helping us to increase focus and awareness. It elevates Anandamide's known as "bliss chemicals" because they are released in the brain when we are feeling happy.

The key is eating minimally processed raw cacao in small amounts to receive these health boosting qualities. Like anything else, we can over do it.

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