Julie Saalsaa, NC, RWP
Food Friday: Cacao Powder
How cacao powder supports the body during times of stress.
Looks yummy right?! You may be surprised that this recipe is not only delicious, but healthy for you! I will be making this recipe for my first On the Farm Retreat when we discuss ways to manage stress. See the link for details and to sign up.
One of the key ingredients in this recipe is cacao powder. Did you know that cacao powder can help some people reduce anxiety and stress? Cacao is the raw form of chocolate. Cacao powder is minimally processed by cold-pressing the fermented cacao beans to separate the cocoa butter.(1) Cocoa powder, what we normally find in the stores, is cacao powder that has been roasted at high temperatures. The benefit to using cacao powder over cocoa powder, is that it retains beneficial minerals, fiber and antioxidants (specifically flavanols) making it a superfood, whereas the heating process strips away those minerals and fiber in the cocoa powder.
Fun Fact: Well, this one really isn’t fun, but interesting to note. Only 3 to 10 percent of the cacao trees will mature to produce full fruit. These trees also only grow in a very specific region of the world (within 600 miles north and south of the equator). Mature cacao trees will produce 5 pounds (15 to 30 cacao pods) of chocolate each year for approximately 25 years.(2)
The specific minerals cacao contains that help support our bodies during stress are potassium and magnesium, it is also high in iron.(1, 2) Typically, people under chronic stress are deficient in potassium and magnesium.(2) Potassium is important for the health of our adrenal glands. The adrenals are responsible for producing and excreting our stress hormones. Potassium deficiency shows up in the form of fatigue, muscle weakness, mental confusion, irritability, heart issues, and problems with the nerves and muscles.(2) The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for potassium is 1,900 – 5,600 mg.(2) Magnesium is easily depleted during chronic stress leading to symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, heart issues, irritability and muscle cramps. Taken under chronic stress, magnesium can help relax the muscles and nerves and aid insomnia.(3) The RDA for magnesium is 350 mg for men, 300 mg for women, and 400 mg for lactation or pregnant women.(2)
There is another scientific theory, although controversial, on how chocolate can help reduce stress. It is based on a neurotransmitter called anandamide and how it induces a “feel good” emotion when chocolate is eaten. Our brains produce anandamide, and it connects itself to certain spots on the outside of our brain cells, called receptors. This then triggers a signal through the cell wall and into the cell. THC, the chemical component found in marijuana that gives a “high”, binds to the same receptors as does anandamide. This does not mean that chocolate will you the “high”! What it does suggest is, our bodies experience a sense of relaxation and happier feelings when chocolate is eaten.(2)
So, what does all this mean when it comes to incorporating cacao powder into your diet? It does not mean you should eat it morning, noon, and night. What I would recommend is using it as a Booster food. Booster foods are highly nutritious foods that I add to mine and my client’s diets in small doses. I suggest to use it in recipes that do not require baking or cooking it, as it may lose it’s nutritional value from the heating process, much like cocoa powder. Another reason for that is because cacao powder is more expensive than cocoa powder. If the nutrients are going to be baked out of it, I wouldn’t waste my money there; I would just use cocoa powder instead. A great place to use cacao powder is in smoothies.
Until next time. Live life well!
Cacao Powder – Nutritional Facts (4):
Serving = 1 Tablespoons (15 grams)
Calories = 70
Protein = 3 g
Carbohydrates = 8 g
Total Sugars = 1 g
Dietary Fiber = 1 g
Fat = 3 g
Calcium = 49 mg
Iron = 7 mg
Magnesium = 81 mg
Phosphorus = 92 mg
Potassium = 337 mg
Sodium = 0 mg
Vitamin C = 1 mg
(1) Morris, J. (2018, December 13). What's the Difference Between Cocoa and Cacao? Retrieved from https://blog.navitasorganics.com/whats-the-difference-between-cocoa-and-cacao
(2) Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., & Pizzorno, L., (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. New York, NY: Atria Books.
(3) Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J., (2016). Therapeutic nutrition textbook – part 1. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
(4) United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, (2019). USDA Food Composition Databases. Retrieved from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list