Cacao: Mayan Superfood

Cacao powderGood news for chocolate lovers! Not only is cacao an extremely healthy alternative to any other dessert when you have a sweet tooth, but it is also a superfood that is anti-aging and can help combat disease! Cacao contains an enzyme called theobromine, which is a non-addictive stimulant that can boost energy, enhance circulation by promoting dilation, lower blood pressure, and may help to treat depression.


The Mayan superfoood in its raw form contains a good source of fiber, iron, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, copper, zinc, potassium, oleic acid (monounsaturated fat), and Vitamins E, B2, B1, B5, B3, B9. These vitamins and minerals are important to help support the body in everyday function.


The fiber helps to stimulant digestive enzymes. A healthy digestive tract will also lead to a strengthened immune system. I like the Navitas Naturals brand, which is 100% cacao powder, USDA organic, non-gmo, vegan, kosher, gluten free.


Nutritional Breakdown of Cacao powder (1.5 tbsp. serving) = 60 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium, 243 mg potassium, 92 mg magnesium, 4 grams of fiber, 0 grams of sugar and 3 grams of protein. It is great in smoothies or with baking.


Cacao beans contain natural chemicals called flavonoids (particularly anthocyanin), a type of antioxidant compound that promotes health and can prevent diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Cacao antioxidants block LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation, that improve blood flow and prevent plaque formation in arteries that lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries).

The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compared the antioxidant capacity of black tea, green tea, red wine, blueberries and cocoa and found that cocoa (in it’s natural, unprocessed form) had the highest antioxidant capacity coupled with the greatest health benefits. The phytochemical analysis of cacao beans reveals that raw chocolate is perhaps the most chemically complex food on earth.

IMG_6782Antioxidants help to neutralize and destroy free radicals (i.e. natural by products of metabolism or are formed from breaking down environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke or pollutants). Free radicals are dangerous because they can damage DNA and interfere with cell membranes, which contribute to aging (accelerated), and risk of heart disease or cancer. Antioxidants help to decrease inflammation caused by arthritis, Crohn’s, IBS, and other diseases.


My favorite way to use cacao is to put it in my morning smoothie. You can also enjoy a few small cacao nibs (from Trader Joe’s) as an afternoon or evening treat. However, you must keep your portion small and in moderation. I use the following ingredients to optimize my nutritional intake while also satisfying my taste buds!


  • 8 ounces Silk unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp. nonfat plain Greek yogurt (optional)
  • ½ banana
  • 1 tbsp. almond or cashew butter
  • 1 tbsp. hemp seeds
  • 1 tbsp. maca powder
  • 1-1.5 tbsp. cacao powder
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon

Add 2-3 ice cubes and blend in a blender or Vitamix and enjoy!


Other notable benefits of raw chocolate (cacao powder) are that it is an appetite suppressant (the high fiber content is helpful for weight loss or maintenance), aphrodisiac, and promotes the release of serotonin leading to feelings of happiness.


The bad wrap of chocolate is from the non-raw chocolate bars containing sugar, dairy and other fillers. By the time it’s in a packaged form, it is usually processed and packed with preservatives, therefore decreasing the nutritional benefit and antioxidant value.


IMG_2031To learn more about superfoods, and how to make nutrition part of your everyday lifestyle, contact Courtney Sullivan, Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer, and Founder of Nutrition for Body and Mind.