Raw Cacao Side Effects and Benefits

cacao fruit with pods

Though little research has been done to prove the point, many people - especially those in the raw food world - believe raw cacao side effects can be extreme. According to raw cacao's opponents, the substance is harmfully addictive and can cause a variety of negative health effects. Proponents, on the other hand, say the benefits are many.

Raw Cacao

Raw cacao are the beans of the cacao tree, which grows indigenously in areas with a rainforest climate. Chocolate is the most popular and well-known byproduct of the cacao plant and is made by combining the beans with milk, sugar, and other ingredients that tone down the beans' strong, characteristically bitter taste.

Adverse Side Effects

Below are just a few of the theories circulating about the negative side effects of this raw food. If you are worried about the effects of raw cacao in your diet, it's a good idea to discuss your concerns with a medical or nutritional professional. He or she may have access to additional research or information that is helpful to share, especially for your own situation.

  • Cacao may be addictive, but there is little research on this possible side effect.
  • Much like coffee, raw cacao contains caffeine, which acts as a stimulant. Caffeine can negatively affect sleep and may affect your kidneys.
  • Cacao also contains theobromine, another stimulant. Together with caffeine, this compound can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, abnormal heart rhythm, and heartburn.
  • Some believe regular, long-term consumption of raw cacao may lead to a variety of health conditions, such as depression, mood swings, nightmares, and paranoia.
  • In addition, this is a raw food product, which means it can be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria just like any other raw food.

Raw cacao opponents make a few additional claims:

  • Animals will not consume cacao unless lured with the addition of added sugar.
  • Groups native to the areas in which cacao grows have historically only used the cacao beans in rituals or for medicinal purposes. This food was not part of their daily diet.
  • Natives typically consume only the fruit of the plant, which offers the same benefits as that of the beans but has few harmful side effects.

Benefits of Raw Cacao

Below are just a few examples of the purported benefits of raw cacao beans.

  • Raw cacao is naturally sugar-free. Unlike the chocolate you'd buy in the baking or candy aisles of your grocery store, raw cacao contains no sugar.
  • Cacao is a natural aphrodisiac. Many people discuss chocolate's ability to act as an aphrodisiac, but it's actually the chemicals in the raw bean that stimulate the senses and heighten feelings of joy and pleasure. The compounds of anandamide and phenylethylamine, "the love chemical," make the brain release dopamine during sex.
  • It is packed with powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants protect your DNA against damage from pollution and aging and help decrease inflammation, which is tied to many diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
  • It may satisfy female cravings. During a woman's menstrual cycle, she may crave chocolate. This may be because chocolate, or rather the cacao from which it comes, contains the mineral magnesium. Many women are deficient in this nutrient.
  • It contains important essential fats. Though the word fat has taken on a highly negative connotation when it comes to health, fat is actually required in a healthy diet. Most people now know that salmon, nuts, and olive oil contain a healthy dose of "good fats," but did you know that cacao is another great way to get heart-healthy fats into your diet?

Conflicting Findings

If you pay attention to the media and news websites, you may feel torn about whether raw cacao and chocolate are harmful, toxic foods or good-for-you superfoods. The same characteristics some experts call benefits, such as the powerful ability of cacao to alter the mood in a positive way, are also the same attributes other experts label as harmful. This conflicting opinion is characterized in the article on raw foods author Frederic Patenaude's site, where mood swings and rapid heart rate are listed as reasons not to consume raw cacao. It's easy to get swept up in the controversy.

Should You Consume Raw Cacao?

Since the opinions and research vary so drastically, consult with your doctor before introducing raw cacao to your diet. Not only will the doctor potentially have access to the latest research, he'll also be able to take a look at your personal health history to see if there is any additional reason you should or should not consume the food. And if you do choose to eat this raw food, do so in moderation. Raw cacao should be a supplement to your diet, not a large part.

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Raw Cacao Side Effects and Benefits