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An ode to cacao

Ah, chocolate. Divine gift of the gods, seducer of millions. Offering health and healing to the physical, emotional and spiritual planes of our existence. How has this bean held us rapt for centuries? Let’s dive in ...

No one knows for sure when cacao was first introduced to humankind, but researchers have found theobromine (a stimulant compound found in chocolate and tea) in sacred vessels as early as 1500 B.C. The word “cacao” comes from the Mayan words “Ka’kau” meaning “heart blood” and “Chokoloa’j” meaning “to drink together.” Cacao was considered one of the ingredients used to create humanity. Cacao’s genus name is Theobroma, which translates to “Food of the Gods.” The Mayan belief was that cacao is a key ingredient to restore balance and connection to the Divine.

Mayan history records chocolate drinks, typically mixed with chili, honey or water, being used in celebrations and to finalize important transactions. The Aztecs took this adoration to the next level. In addition to using it ceremonially, they used cacao beans for currency and it was considered more valuable than gold.

Cacao made its way to Spain in the late 1500s. Rather than enjoying it frothy and bitter as it was traditionally used, Europeans added cane sugar, cinnamon and other flavorings. The Dutch figured out how to highly refine the cacao, allowing it to be mass-produced. Today, typical cocoa powder and chocolate have been heavily chemically processed and roasted at high temperatures, destroying a large amount of antioxidants and flavanols (anti-aging nutrients). A recent study suggested that 60% to 90% of antioxidants in cacao are lost through common “Dutch processing.”

Raw, organic cacao is a different story. It has more than 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries and is the highest plant-based source of iron on the planet (7.3 mg per 100 g, compared with beef or lamb at 2.5 mg and spinach at 3.6 mg). Raw cacao is also one of the highest plant-based sources of magnesium, the most deficient mineral in our modern Western world. It has more calcium than cow’s milk (160 mg per 100 g vs. only 125 mg in cow’s milk)! (Some studies have shown that dairy products can block the absorption of antioxidants and calcium in cacao, so best to leave the cow’s milk for the calves.)

Cacao is also a great source of the “bliss chemicals” – serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylethylamine. These neurotransmitters are associated with feelings of well-being, happiness and can alleviate depression. No wonder we reach for it after a hard day or to balance PMS!

In addition to being packed full of vitamins and minerals, cacao increases blood flow to the brain, which helps strengthen awareness and focus. It helps the body heal, detoxify and give your immune system a good boost. Cacao is known to uplift mood, increase vitality and open the heart and intuition.

Given the divine nature of cacao, it is worth taking the time to consume it with deep reverence. Slow down – allow yourself to fully receive all that cacao has to offer you. Choose a high-quality product – raw, organic, more than 80% cacao, fair trade (to ensure that everyone who has touched this plant has been honored and respected). Pay attention to what happens in your body, mind and heart as you join with this gift of the gods, put on the Earth to deepen your connection to all around you.

Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.