Guest post by Nathan Wiebe, graduate of the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and creator of the Level Up Superfood Coffee Mix: an organic, sugar-free, vegan/paleo/keto-friendly mix of cacao, coconut oil and other superfoods that blends perfectly with coffee.
Long before cacao became popular in North America, it was one of the most coveted foods in all of South America. In fact, it was so revered that they named it “Theobroma,” which translates into “food of the gods.” Ancient civilizations, such as the Aztecs and Mayans, believed that the cacao plant was a sacred medicine. Shamans would use it in heart-opening ceremonies to banish negative thoughts and emotions from the body.
As it turns out, scientists are finally validating what our ancient ancestors have known for centuries: raw cacao can have a powerful effect on the human brain.
Raw Cacao Compared To Chocolate and Coffee
It’s unfortunate, but most people today have only ever experienced chocolate through a sugary candy bar or, at best, a piece of dark chocolate. Most of us have never experienced the undeniable brain-boosting powers of chocolate in its purest form, raw cacao.
Here's the difference: Chocolate is made from cocoa. Cocoa is made from raw cacao that has been processed (roasted at high temperatures). Unfortunately, many of cocoa's unique nutritional qualities are lost in the production process from raw cacao to chocolate.
So if raw cacao is the real deal, how exactly does it boost brain power? Here are 4 ways:
1. Increased Blood Flow to the Brain
Raw cacao is rich in a phytonutrient known as a flavonol. Flavonols have been shown in numerous studies to improve blood flow to the brain. When you improve blood flow, and therefore oxygen to the brain, researchers have seen significant improvements in mental focus and attention span.
2. Gentle Brain Stimulant
The active stimulant in raw cacao is called theobromine. Theobromine is very similar to caffeine, but its effects are milder and longer lasting. I liken it to the feeling you get after waking up from a good night's sleep.
If you’re someone who enjoys a morning pick-me-up but can feel overwhelmed by the effects of coffee, then raw cacao could be your solution. Or you can combine the two and get the best of both worlds!
One study showed that when you combine cocoa (the less potent version of raw cacao) and caffeine from coffee, it can reduce caffeine-related anxiety and increase attention span. When raw cacao and coffee are combined, they seem to work synergistically to balance out the effects of one another, giving you a pleasant and steady buzz throughout the day.
3. Calming Effect
Nothing will derail your productivity quite like a stress-filled mind. Living in a fast-paced world, it can often be difficult to calm down and recenter. This is what makes raw cacao the ultimate ally when dealing with a busy schedule - raw cacao is classified as a vasodilator, which means it has the ability to widen blood vessels and improve blood flow through the body.
When vasodilation occurs, your blood pressure drops and you start to feel calmer and more relaxed. Raw cacao also contains a decent amount of magnesium, which can relax the mind and body due to its calming effect on the nervous system.
4. Elevated Mood
One of the most interesting discoveries about raw cacao, and one of the main reasons it's been used in heart-opening ceremonies for thousands of years, is that it contain a wide array of feel-good chemicals.
One of these chemicals is called phenethylamine (PEA). PEA is known as the “love chemical” as it is what is released by our brain when we fall in love. This is probably one of the reasons why we associate chocolate so strongly with Valentine's day.
Another one of these feel-good chemicals is called Anandamide. Anandamide is referred to as the “bliss chemical”. Whenever we feel great about something, such as accomplishing a big goal or finishing a hard workout, it’s partially due to the fact that our brain is giving us a little extra anandamide. Interestingly, anandamide is classified as a endocannabinoid, which means it binds to the same receptors that THC does from cannabis.
Lastly, cacao contains serotonin and tryptophan. Both of these chemicals have been linked to reduced symptoms of depression. They also promote better sleep which is also associated with better mood.
Raw cacao is a superfood, and one of those hidden gems that I feel that most people have yet to discover. We’ve all eaten commercialized “chocolate”, but very few of us have ever experienced what was once known as the “food of the gods.” Once I discovered the potent mental, physical and spiritual benefits of raw cacao powder, it quickly became an essential part of my morning routine and now plays a key role in my diet.
Nathan came up with the idea for his Level Up Superfood Coffee Mix after spending time in the jungles of Peru and engaging with various plant medicines. His intention for that trip was to discover his true potential so that he could help others to uncover their own. Today, he still holds this intention and Level Up Superfoods Inc is the embodiment of his journey. Read more about Level Up Superfoods on their website, or come try it at The Good Stuff Smoothie Shop!