Cacao nutrition | Ceremonial cacao | Coffee to cacao
We are creatures of habit. We take comfort in repeating daily routines and rituals, and we don't often pause to ponder why we do certain things, whether we actually enjoy doing them or even if they are any good for us.
Take coffee, for example. One of the most consumed beverages globally, coffee has ingrained itself in the mechanisms of so many people's early morning routines. According to The National Coffee Association of America, 7 in 10 Americans drink an average of 3 cups of coffee every day. In Europe, the numbers are even higher. So many of us wake up and immediately reach for that cup as we prepare for the day, believing we can't function without it. But is that true? And is there another beverage that actually does deliver what coffee promises to - and more?
Perhaps it's time to examine some of the common myths and realities behind coffee and how it measures up compared to the lesser-known but gaining in popularity, powerhouse of a drink - pure Ceremonial Cacao.
But first, let's take a look at how these two beverages came into our lives in the first place. The earliest credible reports of the drinking of coffee come from 15th century Suffi shrines in modern-day Yemen, where coffee seeds were first roasted and brewed in a manner similar to current methods. Indigenous to the Ethiopian Highlands, by the 16th-century, coffee was extensively cultivated, traded, and consumed in the Middle East, North Africa, and later, Europe. From Europe, it was just a matter of time for coffee to reach the New World, where it became "the favorite drink of the civilized world" and cultivations spread across the Caribbean, Central, and South America.
Cacao journeyed in the opposite direction. Evidence of its use traces back to South and Central America some 4000 years ago. Native to the Amazon rainforests, Cacao had divine status among the civilizations of the Olmecs, Izapan, Maya, Toltecs, Aztecs, and Incas. This was reflected in the plant's scientific name of Theobroma Cacao, which literally translates as the food of the Gods. The Spanish conquistadors introduced the Cacao drink to the Europeans, who sweetened it with cane sugar to match their tastes. From there on, it was a short road to modern-day chocolate.
There is, of course, a vast difference between commercial chocolate, processed cocoa powder, and pure Ceremonial Cacao. Most cocoa is sourced from hybrid varieties, cultivated, and produced under questionable ethical practices. In addition, it is highly processed, resulting in a food product that is nearly void of all beneficial nutrients and compounds. For example, the popular Dutch-process cocoa requires the addition of an alkalizing agent to reduce cocoa's natural acidity, giving it a less bitter taste. Unfortunately, by stripping cacao of its bitterness, you lose the most beneficial essence of this magical plant. This is also the reason why mainstream chocolate bars are of virtually no nutritional or wellness value.
On the other hand, pure Ceremonial Cacao is sourced from non-hybrid, non-plantation Criollo trees of Mesoamerica. It is minimally processed, with no tempering, and no additions or extractions, thus preserving the maximum amount of beneficial compounds. It is this 100% pure Cacao that is not only a rival to coffee but a hands-down winner, whichever way you look at it! And this is why...
The caffeine in coffee does indeed increase alertness, which is why coffee has become so popular and a vital part of today's societal norms. This results from caffeine's effect on the central nervous system. Essentially, caffeine blocks adenosine's receptors, the brain chemical that makes us feel tired.
The problem with this is that, amongst other things, it can wreck our ability to sleep. Our body produces more and more adenosine throughout the day, which binds to receptors generating a sleepy response. The longer we are awake, the more adenosine, the more binding, the sleepier we get. When the caffeine in coffee kicks in and starts blocking those adenosine receptors, it makes it harder for us to fall asleep. Caffeine also affects our melatonin, and thus not just the amount of sleep we get but also the quality. Confusing our internal clock and impacting our circadian rhythms, it can leave us feeling like we are permanently on jet lag. Sleep loss is cumulative, with even small nightly decreases adding up and disturbing daytime alertness and performance, practically defeating the purpose of drinking coffee in the first place!
Moreover, while caffeine may be helpful in "waking us up" and keeping us stimulated, it can also cause a jittery sensation, nervousness, and anxiety. This is because it triggers the release of adrenaline, activating the "fight-or-flight" response in the body known as the sympathetic nervous system. An overstimulated sympathetic nervous system can have detrimental effects on our health, including aggravating depression.
Adrenaline secretion also increases our heartbeat and our blood pressure. Research indicates that coffee, which stimulates this secretion, may increase blood pressure for up to three hours after consumption. Hence, on its official website, the UK National Health System advises people to reduce their caffeine intake to get their blood pressure under control.
Although caffeine is only mildly physically addictive, our bodies can experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, as early as within 12-24 hours. This is probably because the blood vessels in the brain, which normally are kept tight and constricted due to the action of the caffeine, start to swell and cause pain.
Other than the temporary energy boost we get from caffeine, there is little evidence to support that coffee gives us anything that is of significant nutritional value. According to the US National Nutrient Database, brewed coffee from typical grounds prepared with tap water contains 40 mg of caffeine per 100 g and no essential nutrients in significant content. Only espresso contains some amounts of magnesium, B vitamins, niacin, and riboflavin.
Cacao, on the other hand, is THE superfood, placed at the top of the list of superfoods by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition for being packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In fact, it is one of the most complex, nutritionally dense, and complete foods on the planet.
Most notably, Cacao is the world's best source of magnesium, which is one of the reasons Cacao is known to lower, rather than elevate, blood pressure. Magnesium also plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions. Through the enzymatic activation of glucose in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which our neurons need to create energy, magnesium helps create mental clarity and focus!
Cacao is also the best source of antioxidants, with an even higher content than blueberries. It is also more abundant in flavonoids than most other plant-based sources, another factor that makes cacao great for lowering blood pressure.
But apart from its exceptional nutritional value, Cacao is unique in the combination of its calming, stimulating, and euphoric effects! The energizing effect is primarily due to the alkaloid theobromine it contains, which though a stimulant, does not affect our central nervous system like caffeine. Instead, it is a cardiovascular stimulant, increasing heart function and blood flow. Whereas caffeine hits the body hard and fast with a jolt and then a crash, theobromine lifts the mood and energy for an extended period, contributing to mental focus. Moreover, the combination of theobromine and magnesium, which acts as a natural relaxant by helping deactivate adrenaline, ensures that, unlike coffee, Cacao provides us with sustainable energy without messing up our sleep cycle. On the contrary, since Cacao also has tryptophan - an amino acid that, when ingested, gets turned into the neurotransmitter serotonin and then converted into the hormone melatonin - it actually helps us get a great night's sleep.
Additionally, the euphoric heart-centered energy of the 'feel good' chemicals phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide that are present in Cacao give us a restorative and creative boost. PEA is the molecule that supports a class of neurotransmitters that includes dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. When levels of PEA are elevated, the brain's synaptic vesicles will take in PEA instead of dopamine. This increases dopamine levels, which correlates with increased attentiveness and elevated mood. WebMD, an American corporation known primarily as an online publisher of news and information on human health and well-being, states that PEA has been used for improving athletic performance, depression, weight loss, and to improve mood and attention. And anandamide (AEA), often called 'the bliss chemical,' also contributes to the mild euphoria and sense of well-being we feel when consuming 100% pure Cacao.
Are you still wondering if you should ditch coffee and opt for Cacao as your daily source of energy? The answer is a no-brainer! But don't take our world for it. Purchase a block of Keith’s Cacao, the original and finest 100% Ceremonial Cacao in the world, and try it for yourself!