Cacao: The Food Of The Gods
Have you ever found yourself in the candy aisle of 7-11 after getting a touch too high? It’s OK. We all make mistakes. It’s part of growing up. You...
Have you ever found yourself in the candy aisle of 7-11 after getting a touch too high? It’s OK. We all make mistakes. It’s part of growing up. You’re in the brightly lit sugar store so flummoxed by choices you’re forced to sit down so you don’t pass out. As you sit cross-legged in 7-11, your eyes dart between options. It’s overwhelming. After what feels like hours, the store manager asks what you’re doing. You take a deep breath, look him directly in the eyes and say, “No matter which I candy bar I choose, I will leave here with two things—regret, and cacao.” The store manager drops to his knees and begins to weep at the profundity of your insight.
Most chocolate products contain bean from the cacao tree. The candy bars named above have a bunch of other ingredients associated with phrases like, “you might want to get your affairs in order,” but raw cacao on its own is surprisingly healthy. A cacao pod looks like a small football, with a dark, leathery rind, and is filled with up to fifty seeds. Both cocoa and cacao are derived from the same tree. During harvest, the seeds are extracted and fermented, however, the processing of the seeds is what makes cocoa different from cacao. Cocoa is heated which results in a sweeter flavor, but the high temperatures burn off most of the healthy nutrients, while cacao is cold-pressed, retaining the living enzymes.
The cacao tree is native to the Amazon Basin and was consumed by pre-Columbian cultures along the Yucatán, including the Maya in spiritual ceremonies. Today, most of the world’s cacao is grown in South America and West Africa.
Cacao is densely packed with magnesium. Psychology Today named magnesium "The Original Chill Pill... an old home remedy for anxiety, apathy, depression, headaches, insecurity, irritability, restlessness... and sulkiness.” Magnesium passes signals between your brain and body, interacting with the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which promote brain development and memory. Low levels of magnesium are associated with headaches and inflammation. According to Alexander Mauskop, MD, director of the New York Headache Center, “Alcohol also can reduce magnesium levels, which may explain why it can be a migraine trigger.” Low magnesium is also linked to diabetes in cardiovascular disease.
With 15x the antioxidants of blueberries, cacao is considered a potent superfood. Antioxidants aid the immune system in fighting oxidative damage and free radicals. When your body doesn’t produce enough antioxidants, it can result in oxidative stress and other bad things.
Cacao also contains compounds called flavanols which produce nitric oxide, improving blood flow to the brain. A two-week study in 34 older adults given high-flavanol cocoa found that blood flow to the brain increased by 10% after just two weeks.
Not only does cacao help with blood flow to the brain, it contains phenylethylamine (PEA) which is known as the “love drug.” PEA interacts with dopamine, which regulates the brain’s reward response—Think chocolate on Valentine's Day.
Cacao is also associated with lower blood pressure. In a study known as the Dutch Zutphen Elderly Study, 470 elderly men were tracked for 15 years. Those with the highest cacao consumption had lower blood pressure and an adjusted 50% relative reduction in risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
It is ironic that an ingredient in chocolate can make you live longer. Perhaps most ironic are the studies that have explored the protective effects of cacao against dental cavities and gum disease. Cacao contains antibacterial properties that boost oral health. In one study, rats infected with oral bacteria that were given cacao resulted in a significant reduction in dental cavities. Don’t let this study get you on a fast track back to 7-11, though. Remember, raw cacao = good. All that other shit you can’t pronounce = death. For it’s antioxidants, magnesium, and rich flavor, cacao holds the prestigious title of the most abundant ingredient in MUD\WTR and it’s what makes our elixir look so damn dirty.