Human beings have been coveting cacao for nearly 2000 years now. Cacao, the tasty powder derived from cacao beans, is one of the most popular ingredients in many deserts and dishes all over the world. In addition to its taste, cacao has many functional benefits. Keep reading to find out one of our favorite benefits!
Cacao is the raw plant-based food that chocolate is made from. Cacao is typically processed into a powder form, and then when it is cooked it becomes cocoa (which has a more mild flavor but similar benefits to cacao).
Cacao is linked to lowered blood pressure, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and improved blood flow. However, more recent studies show that cacao is also associated with an enhanced mood (1). In our hectic world, mental health disorders are on the rise (increasing from about 8% to over 13% in the past decade); therefore, finding natural ways to combat these mental conditions is crucial. The mood-enhancing effects of cacao are due to the compounds released when cacao beans are milled into a powder. We want to highlight a few, so you know precisely how cacao works its mood-improving magic!
The first mood-boosting component of cacao called tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that aids in the production of serotonin, playing a huge role in our mood. Low levels of serotonin have been strongly associated with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Tryptophan also contains unique antioxidants known as flavonoids that protect against everyday stress and toxins. Flavanoids also have an essential role in our mood - one study found that acute flavonoid consumption was associated with a decrease in major depressive disorder (2)!
We are unable to make tryptophan in the body ourselves; therefore, you have to supplement it in your diet in order to receive its functional benefits. Consuming cacao is the perfect way to do so due to its high natural tryptophan content! While many high-protein foods (i.e., meat, poultry, fish) also have tryptophan, tryptophan from protein is not easily absorbed into the body without carbohydrates, as it cannot pass the blood-brain barrier without the help of glucose (3). Glucose is readily available in cacao, making it an ideal food to get tryptophan into your brain!
This is another powerful antioxidant found in plants—and is typically produced by plants when they are exposed to stress (i.e., drought, excessive sunlight) (4). This compound is new to the health world, so our understanding of its effects is continuously growing, however, the current literature on resveratrol provides us with promising benefits and great insight. A meta-analysis on mood, depression, and anxiety found that regular resveratrol consumption was associated with a significant improvement of low mood (5).
Resveratrol also contains natural opiates, which offer similar effects in the body as morphine (6), but on a MUCH smaller scale than the real deal. Pain is often a significant reason people have decreased mood - in fact, many people with chronic pain report having symptoms of depression. Chronic pain is often what leads to opioid addiction; however, using a natural alternative like resveratrol may be the solution that we have been needing!
This word, though hard to pronounce, is impressive when it comes to boosting mood. In scientific terms, it is an alkaloid, which works on the brain just like neurotransmitters (like serotonin). This miracle compound is considered an all-natural antidepressant. It has been shown to relieve symptoms of depression, roughly 60% of the time (7)! One of the ways it does this is by stimulating the release of endorphins - or “feel-good chemicals.” Endorphins are the same chemicals the brain releases during sex, after eating tasty foods, or after a tough workout. Cacao is one of the only foods in which this compound is found naturally (so far), making chocolate a mood-boosting wonder food!
All of the above compounds found in cacao work together to boost mood by affecting the brain; however, not all cacao is made (or eaten) equally. There are ways to consume cacao to maximize its benefits. Here are some things to consider the next time you crave some mood-boosting chocolate:
- Mood-boosing effects of chocolate increase with the concentration of raw cacao - this means that raw cacao has the most potent effects, then dark chocolate, and lastly, milk chocolate (aim for at least 70% dark chocolate to optimize benefits).
- The body only absorbs a limited amount of these mood-boosting compounds at a time. So a small dose (up to 1.4 ounces a day) but consistent use would be optimal – this is the perfect amount to slowly build up a concentration of compounds in the body.
- The less processed the cacao, the more powerful its effects will be (again, raw cacao is best).
There are so many delicious ways to enjoy your cacao; however, be sure to use organic and high quality ingredients that do not hurt your body more than helping it. Here at GoldynGlow, we rely on our superfood blend HAPPY for our cacao fix. It contains high-quality organic raw cacao powder that is free from chemicals and toxins.