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Is Cacao Good Or Bad?

Posted Jun 10 2010 7:59pm

CacaoThis article may annoy you. I say this because I’m going to be talking about both sides of cacao – which means the bad side too.

It was interesting in my research to find very strong arguments both for and against cacao. Some writers were even quite bitter and aggressive towards the opposing side of their belief.

In the beginning I was fully prepared to belittle cacao and be one of those bitter and aggressive people. From the small amount of research I’d already done, cacao wasn’t looking too good and I was convinced the physical and energetic symptoms I’d been experiencing were entirely due to cacao. But the more I researched both sides of the argument the more I realized that cacao is a wonderful, beautiful medicinal food that needs to be treated with great respect. But it’s also a food that I’ve chosen to in future consume only very sparingly. And this article will explain why.

What’s the “problem” with cacao?

The problem isn’t really cacao. The problem is mainly to do with the Theobromine found in cacao. Sure cacao also contains mycotoxins, oxalic acid and cannabinoids which have their problems too, but the majority of the complaints about cacao seem to be pointing towards the Theobromine content.

The thing is, cacao is absolutely amazing, and I agree with David Wolfe that it truly is a “superfood”. It’s packed full of goodness including extraordinary high levels of magnesium, chromium and iron in addition to having one of the highest levels of antioxidants in any food source – only third to cloves and chaga mushroom that I’m aware of.

And a lot of research has also been done on cacao which has really helped the superfood stand out as one of the most amazing medicinal food sources on the planet. David Wolfe in particular has videos and articles all over the web which discuss the range of healing benefits found in cacao which are worth a read or a watch, just do a simple Google search.

But of course if you’re a chocolate lover then you already knew all of this. So let’s get into some of the information on the “bad” side of cacao which is perhaps the information that you didn’t actually know.

I’ve given up cacao. Well not given it up, more like taken a break from it for a month before I ease back into occasional use. Which may be once a week or once a fortnight at most, depending on how I feel about it. This is actually a big thing for me because I used to be a huge cacao advocate. I went as far as having a cacao dance party in my garden AND I ran a raw chocolate making workshop and lecture at my house. I’d become an expert in raw chocolate making and managed to convert most of my friends into drinking cacao smoothies and eating cacao beans on a daily basis.

But then things got a bit not quite so right. I was consuming an average of three very heaped tablespoons of cacao every day. And I began to recognize symptoms in my physical and energetic body that didn’t seem like me. I was up and down more than usual, felt overly hyperactive a lot of the time, and I had this insane feeling of irritation which would come out of nowhere. I then stumbled across a few stories of people both online and in my personal life who had to give up cacao for their skin. That’s right, the superfood that I’d always promoted as helping the skin was starting to show up as inducing acne for some raw foodies.

It’s all about the Theobromine

Like I mentioned above, it’s not the actual cacao bean that’s the toxic substance, it’s the psychoactive chemicals found in the bean. Theobromine in particular is found in the highest concentrate and is really what is causing the problems and the growing controversy within the raw food community.

You can think of it kind of like green tea. We know that green tea is so amazingly good for us, especially with consideration to how high the levels of antioxidants are in green tea. However, we also know that most green teas contain caffeine, and if you’re sensitive to caffeine or avoiding it, then you’ll likely avoid most green teas too.

Cacao is no different.

Theobromine is very similar to caffeine in how if feels when it’s in the body. Even though many very different chemical reactions are taking place, the actual physical and energetic feeling you get is quite similar to that if you’ve just downed a cup of coffee.

Interestingly I felt the effects of theobromine in cacao a lot more after I’d done extensive detoxing and cleansing of my body earlier this year. So the cleaner I am the more sensitive I am to theobromine which is something to keep in mind.

I actually love the feeling of the chemical in my body. It’s quite addictive! My heart beats a little faster, I feel hyperactive, more inspired, my mind is clearer, my body warms up a little and I have a strong motivation to do creative work. The problem is every high is followed by a low and these highs really are addictive. If you start to research cacao and theobromine you’ll come across a range of resources that say that theobromine does not actually give you that low but in my opinion it does. It’s the law of duality – you can’t really get one without the other. Sure it may not be as strong as the depressive low many often get after a night on an alcohol binge, but it’s there and it’s enough to perhaps encourage you to think twice about actually consuming cacao in the first place.

Theobromine in the body

While researching Theobromine I came across countless articles which clearly stated that Theobromine has a milder affect on the central nervous system than caffeine. While this is true, it’s also important to note that Theobromine stimulates the heart to a greater degree because it’s a myocardial stimulant as well as a vasodilator. This is why you may find that when you consume high quantities of cacao (or even small quantities for some), your heart starts to beat a little faster.

And just like caffeine, Theobromine can also cause sleeplessness, tremors, restlessness and anxiety. It’s also a diuretic so can increase the production of urine.

There’s a very excellent article by Steve Gagne which explains in beautiful detail how cacao works in the body as a diuretic, along with a few other interesting facts about what happens in the body when we consume cacao from a macrobiotic perspective. I encourage you to read the article when you’ve got time because it’s an awesome and unbiased resource of information on cacao – The Energetics of Cooling Foods .

In addition it’s not uncommon to experience adrenal fatigue after consuming high quantities of cacao. This has personally happened to me twice – once after a cacao dance party with David Wolfe in Byron Bay, and again after a cacao dance party in my own home. I remember David Wolfe telling us that we probably wouldn’t sleep that night and I just laughed it off, until it actually happened! I got home around midnight but was unable to sleep until around 3 am. My boyfriend at the time and I both experienced what we called a “cacao hangover” the next day. We were very tired and a little slower than usual. I also felt moody and depressed. We had our suspicions that this hangover feeling was because of the cacao but really we thought it was just because we hadn’t had enough sleep and that our insomnia was due to the adrenalin of dancing most of the night and being at a really fun party. You know, winding down time.

And then the same thing happened after my own cacao party. It was really fun during the party, we all felt super high. My house mate even started to get extremely hyperactive around midnight after eating a heap of raw chocolate and cacao beans. She was literally jumping out of her chair with over excitement!! But then most of my friends that came along couldn’t sleep that night, and we all woke up the next day with the same cacao hangover. It was then that I realized that the cacao hangover was a real thing and we put it down to adrenal fatigue. Still I was addicted and it didn’t stop me for the next couple of months.

Theobromine isn’t all bad

I realize that I’ve made Theobromine look incredibly bad which probably isn’t fair. Because aside from all the bad stuff mentioned above, Theobromine actually does have some good parts to it too. Theobromine is actually available as a supplement to help ailments such as angina and high blood pressure.

My personal thoughts on the consumption of cacao

I’ve been off cacao now for just over a week and I’ve felt a lot more even tempered and in control of my emotions. Interestingly this morning I had a craving for green tea which is odd because I haven’t had green tea in months because I avoid caffeine as much as possible. But the craving was there so I made myself a small pot of green tea. Not long after drinking a cup I started to get the same feeling that I used to get when I’d drink a cup of cacao or have a decent amount of raw chocolate. My heart started to beat a little faster and I felt overly excited and hyperactive. I jumped straight onto Google and discovered that yep, green tea in fact contains Theobromine too!!! I honestly feel that it was the addictiveness of Theobromine that gave me the craving for the tea. I knew that I wasn’t allowing myself to eat cacao so my body craved the next accessible thing it knew that contained the chemical.

And while sure, I do believe that Theobromine is addictive I also feel that this addictiveness varies from person to person. It would not have been a big deal for example if I’d not had a green tea today. But that’s not surprising considering when I gave up coffee years ago, I went from drinking at least one giant mugful a day to just giving it up overnight without even really missing it. On the other hand I’ve heard of many others who constantly struggle with kicking their coffee or caffeine habit. So I guess this really comes down to the individual and how the body responds to missing the “hit”.

Interestingly, cacao that has been heat processed (which we all call cocoa) contains much lower levels of Theobromine. So pure and raw cacao contains much higher levels of Theobromine. But it also contains much higher levels of nutrients and antioxidants too. Heat processed cocoa found in most confectionary chocolate bars while containing very little Theobromine is also quite nutrient dead.

What other foods contain Theobromine?

Theobromine is also found in 19 different plant species including green and black tea, acai, Yerba mate, kola nuts and even carob (but in very small amounts).

The energetics perspective

I strongly feel that aside from the Theobromine content, cacao has some kind of magical energetic element to it. This element is quite powerful which is why some of us have a “negative” reaction when we consume high doses. It’s almost like we’re messing around with or abusing a very special and scared food. I personally know that when I was on regular small doses of cacao I felt more inspired, creative and I got some of the best work done in my business. However, there’s a fine line between medicinal supplementation and overuse. As soon as I started taking regular high doses of cacao, the moodiness and depression turned up along with things not always turning out how I’d anticipated. Perhaps the cacao gods need to be given a little more respect than what we’ve been giving them for this very special medicinal food.

Is there anything else bad in cacao other than Theobromine?

Cacao contains mycotoxins, specifically alfatoxin. Mycotoxins are the waste produced by fungi and can cause a range of health problems in the body. However, after reading Dr Gabriel Cousens book Rainbow Green Live Food Cuisine, I honestly feel that if you want to completely elminate all foods that contain mycotoxins from your diet then you’re going to be eating a very limited diet. In addition, for anyone that wants to actually do this (and kudos to those that do, I think this is a extremely healthy way to live), it would most likely be the type of person that wouldn’t binge on cacao anyway. So I don’t see much of an argument here.

The highest levels of mycotoxins are found in animal products, alcohol, corn, wheat, barley, sugar, peanuts, rye and hard cheeses. You can read more on mycotoxins at Dr Mecolas site, but I highly recommend you get your hands on Rainbow Green Live Food Cuisine by Dr Gabriel Cousens. It’s one of those life changing books that explains mycotoxins better than anywhere else I’ve read.

Some articles against cacao claim that the oxalic acid content makes it unhealthy. And while this is true, amaranth, spinach and parsley actually contain more oxalic acid than cacao and nobody is standing up and telling us to stop eating these foods are they, because they’re good for us! So there’s no argument here really either unless you’re consuming a significant amount of cacao on a daily basis.

But just in case you were wondering, when high doses of oxalic acid are consumed it can inhibit calcium absorption.

Then there’s the cannabinoids content of cacao. Sound familiar? That’s right, cannabinoids is the same stuff found in cannabis (marijuana). In fact, cacao is the only other plant known of that contains cannabinoids apart from cannabis. However, I personally don’t feel that this is anything to be worried about considering it’s also only found in very minute amounts.

From my understanding of how smoking a lot of cannabis affects both the physical and energetic body, there are no similarities to eating a lot of cacao. Cannabis for example can make regular smokers lack motivation and a spark for life. I’ve had friends in the past that have smoked a lot. They’d spend their days talking about all of the cool stuff they wanted to do but they never actually did any of it. Cannabis can also cause the “munchies” after smoking. On lots of cacao I experienced a heap of motivation, a lot of action and thirst for getting things done (which I did). Cacao is also a hunger suppressant which doesn’t line up with the munchies at all.

Interestingly some medicinal cannabis manufacturers are now adding cacao into cannabis herbal mixtures because the cacao can actual amplify the physical medicinal effects of the cannabis.

I’ve read in many resources online that if you eat a minimum of 40 cacao beans you can start to hallucinate. I personally haven’t tried this or know of anyone that has so I’m not sure if it’s true. But it’s not like that’s something any of us would do every day anyway!

Lastly, there are claims that most cacao contains remnants of animal urine and feces. This is because when the cacao beans are left to dry and ferment, they’re left in the open air for any rodent or animal to climb all over and chill out in there for a bit. However, these same articles claim that no animal would touch cacao without being “tricked into it with milk and sugar” which aside from being a very random statement (has anyone actually tried this??), it just doesn’t make sense to me why a pack of rodents or any animal for that matter would hang out on top of a bunch of drying and fermenting cacao beans when they’re not particularly interested in them in the first place.

I’m sure cacao does contain some form of dirt, or soil or even a bit of animal poo. But it’s managed to pass through strict health and safety testing to be allowed to be sold in the US, Australia, the UK and many other developed countries. I also eat organic food direct from the farmers market and rarely wash them before I eat them, I spend a lot of time bare foot out in my garden and I swim in the ocean and water springs. I’m sure there’s plenty of animal waste in these environments that I’ve indirectly ingested in some way or another. So I’m not particular worried about it and neither should you.

Great articles to read about the negative side of cacao

I’m not posting these articles to scare you or turn you off cacao because that’s not my intention. To be honest I feel that eating cacao is as “bad” as drinking a cup of green tea. There are positives and negatives to it. What I encourage you to do is get in tune with your own body to see how you feel when you ingest it. Sit with both your physical and energetic body and watch for any changes after you’ve consumed it. It’s important to take note of both the good and bad. You might find that personally you thrive on cacao and it’s the best food ever for you. You may want to consume bucket loads of it every single day. But I encourage you to really take a good look at how you’re feeling, and to keep monitoring that. Because if you do start to find yourself feeling any sort of physical, energetic or emotional discomfort which doesn’t quite feel like you, then perhaps consider doing some experimentation with eating small quantities or cutting it out for a short period to see if it makes a difference. Keep in mind that my adverse reactions after eating cacao didn’t show up until I started consuming high quantities and had done a lot of cleansing.

I also would like to note here that a lot of the articles I read online that are against cacao don’t do a very good job at backing themselves up. This is unfortunate because it makes some articles lose their credibility.

In any case, I strongly feel that it’s not necessarily about what’s written down on a piece of paper or on the Internet that really matters. It really does come down to how YOUR body feels, what your intuition says and how comfortable you feel about it. Combine that with regular blood work to make sure the cacao is sitting well in your physical body and you’ll be okay with whatever path you choose.

Is Raw Cacao Really Healthy? – This article by Cynthia Perkins is a little too over the top against cacao in my opinion. However, she raises some great points including this paragraph which I love –

We could sum this up simply by saying that raw cacao over stimulates the heart, mind, nervous system and body. Over stimulation is never a good thing. It leads to burn out, malfunction and degradation.

Is Raw Cacao A Superfood Or Harmful Stimulant? – This article by Diana Stoevelaar is again a little too aggressively against cacao but at the same time it contains some interesting facts including which leading raw foodies are talking out against cacao, and why Jeremey Safron (who supposedly brought cacao into the raw food community before David Wolfe) now only advises cacao for sacred, medicinal or entertainment usage. I think Jeremy has the right idea.

The Energetics of Cooling Foods by Steve Gagne (as listed in the article) is an excellent article that I highly recommend you read. If you’re going to choose just one article I recommend you read this one.

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