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If you're looking to bring more bliss into your life, look no further than chocolate, cacao to be more precise. Raw, organic, cacao has many awesome health benefits, especially in comparison to your standard chocolate. Cacao was a culinary and medicinal treasure to ancient civilizations of Central and South America for thousands of years. Cacao beans even served as a form of currency in the early Aztec empire.

Cacao (also called cocoa) is simply the mother of chocolate. It is chocolate before all of the added sugar, milkfat, natural or artificial flavors and preservatives have been added. Cacao in its unprocessed, natural state, has all kinds of awesome health benefits. There is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called anandamide that has come to be known as the bliss molecule. "Ananda" comes from the Sanskrit word for bliss. Anandamide helps with pain relief and has a similar effect to that of marijuana. It helps us feel calmer, more centered, and clearer—a peaceful way to set the tone for evening bliss and restful sleep. Anandamide plays a role in the generation of motivation and pleasure (some call it euphoria), and is important for immune function. Research is still forthcoming in terms of way to boost anandamide, but cacao is one of the best ways to get a natural dose of it. This may explain why we feel so drawn to eating chocolate. EPA/DHA from fish oils and exercise may also enhance anandamide levels.

Cacao contains theobromine, a chemical whose name originates in the Latin genus name for cacao, which is Theobroma. The literal translation of this name is "food of the gods." Theobromine is a bitter chemical compound (called an alkaloid) that can act as a mild stimulant and mood enhancer. Theobromine also acts as a vasodilator (blood vessel widener/relaxer) and diuretic (increase the need to urinate). Cacao contains antioxidants, magnesium and also essential fatty acids that may support heart health.

If you were to compare cacao nibs, which are made from raw, dried cacao beans that come straight out of Theobroma cacao fruit pod, with chocolate chips, cacao nibs have twice the protein, quadruple the fiber and a fraction of the sugar of your standard chocolate chips. Zero grams of sugar in cacao nibs compared to 16 grams of sugar in a few tablespoons of chocolate chips.

Cacao is a great way to go if you are looking to receive the health benefits of chocolate without the added sugars and other additives. It's always a good idea to start with a small serving to see how your body reacts to any new food. A precautionary note is that cacao contains caffeine and like with any stimulant (theobromine included), eating too much may cause anxiety, insomnia, or an abnormal heart beat. You can add cacao nibs or powder to smoothies, marinades, sauces, desserts, in yogurt, cereal – you decide, creativity is unlimited.

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