The Fascinating Mood-Boosting Qualities Of Cacao
If you crave your favourite chocolate bar whenever you feel sad, it may not be just because you are a chocoholic. Chocolate is widely known as a mood booster, as cacao, the main ingredient, raises serotonin levels (the feel-good hormone) in the brain.
However, did you know that cacao (the minimally processed version) has significantly more mood-boosting qualities? Cacao is, hands down, one of the best foods that boost energy and mood both in the short and long term. Here’s how cacao can support your mental health and well-being.
How Does Cacao Affect Your Mood?
Cacao contains numerous active compounds and nutrients that stimulate the brain's production of neurotransmitters and neuro-modulators. This results in the release of feel-good hormones like Endorphins, Serotonin, and Dopamine, which are responsible for our improved mood after drinking or eating cacao.
Endorphins are natural pain-killing substances that trigger a positive, euphoric feeling, Serotonin helps to stabilise your mood, and Dopamine helps you feel pleasure.
Cacao doesn't just positively improve your mood in the short term, though. Some compounds found in cacao, like Anandamide, can actively help to keep mental illnesses like anxiety and depression at bay.
In addition, regular cacao consumption is believed to create new neural pathways in your brain, increasing the amount of joy and love you feel long-term. For example, studies have shown that long-term flavanol intake results in neurocognitive enhancement and neuroprotection.
The Scientific Link Between Cacao And Happiness
Cacao is said to be one of the most natural ways to boost your mood because it contains numerous happiness-enhancing molecules that affect how you feel. So let's explore what is in cacao that makes us feel so good!
- Polyphenols - These compounds are full of antioxidants, and a 2012 study found that they have many potential health benefits. These include relieving stress, lowering your risk of depression, and slowing down cognitive decline.
- Salsolinol - This natural euphoric compound stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with pleasure and reward.
- Tryptophan - Tryptophan is known as a natural antidepressant that stimulates the production of melatonin and Serotonin. It supports the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle - and we all know that the more well-rested you are, the happier you feel. Moreover, Tryptophan depletion has been linked to depression, so cacao can help to keep these levels high.
- Anandamide - Known as the bliss molecule, Anandamide is associated with feelings of euphoria as it binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body. This can stimulate a sense of happiness and mental well-being. Studies have also found that it may reverse symptoms of depression.
- PEA (phenylethylamine) - This organic compound elevates your mood while improving brain function. It can increase feelings of excitement and can even give the perception of time slowing down. This can aid anxiety relief and help to put your mind at ease if you're someone who always feels stressed and in a rush.
- Magnesium - Cacao is also high in magnesium, the most vital mineral for muscle relaxation. Magnesium deficiency can result in anxiety and irritability, so consuming cacao could be excellent for long-term mental health.
Cacao As A Heart Opener
Aside from the scientific evidence, there are also spiritual beliefs about how cacao is good for our mood. For thousands of years, indigenous cultures have consumed cacao in ceremonies and rituals.
Cacao became a shamanic healing tool because it is said to open our hearts and promote feelings of love, healing and compassion, all of which are associated with happiness and bliss.
It is believed this heart-opening is due to the cardiac stimulant theobromine. This significantly increases blood flow, stimulating the heart while relaxing blood vessels.
Which Is Better For Your Mood; Cacao Or Chocolate
Both chocolate and cacao can make you experience feelings of happiness, but is this due to the same reason?
Processed chocolate and cocoa powder stimulate the production of endorphins and Serotonin in your brain like cacao. However, because the percentage of cacao is much lower in chocolate, the effect on your mood is generally lower.
The main reason eating a bar of your favourite commercial chocolate makes you happy is more likely down to the high sugar content. The sugar in chocolate creates massive surges of Dopamine, which makes you feel temporarily satisfied and pleasurable until you experience the crash.
Therefore, the happiness high you get from cacao is both healthier and more sustained than the one from chocolate.
How To Boost Your Mood Naturally With Cacao
There are many ways to consume cacao, such as:
- Drink a cup of cacao (hot or iced)
- Add cacao nibs (or our cacao nibbles) to your breakfast
- Add grated pure cacao to a smoothie
- Try cacao tea
- Snack on dark chocolate bark
Drink a cup of cacao
Drinking cacao is the most common way to get the feel-good benefits of this mood food. While many cacao powders are available for making hot cacao, we find using a pure cacao block gives the best taste.
Add cacao nibs to your breakfast
One of the quickest ways to get a daily dose of this mood-enhancing superfood is to sprinkle cacao nibs over porridge, granola, or yoghurt. Moreover, you can add them when baking sweet treats like cakes and cookies or simply eat a small handful as a quick snack.
Plain cacao nibs usually taste quite bitter, but we've added orange, maple syrup and cardamom to ours for a delicious hint of sweetness.
Add cacao to a smoothie
If you don't have time for breakfast in the morning, why not make a smoothie to take to work? Cacao works great in smoothies with a wide range of fruits and plant-based milk. We particularly like cacao, banana, blueberry, and almond milk smoothies.
Try cacao tea
If you're a tea lover who consumes multiple brews daily, consider switching one cup to cacao tea. Cacao tea is like a light hot chocolate in a tea infusion and has more nutritional properties and less caffeine than your usual English Breakfast tea. In addition, you can get cacao tea in different flavours, such as orange and cardamom, for cosy winter nights in front of the fireplace.
Snack on dark chocolate bark
If you're used to eating milk chocolate high in sugar and dairy, you might worry that cacao will taste too bitter. However, our 75% dark chocolate barks are arguably more tasty than commercial chocolate and much better for you. The maple nibs, sea salt, and activated hazelnut chocolate bark is the ultimate flavour explosion in your mouth!
We’ve also created hot choc melting spoons using our 75% dark chocolate, giving you a fun, easy, and healthy way to enjoy a comforting mug of hot chocolate.
As cacao is full of good stuff and without any side effects (provided you have it in small portions), there is no reason why you cannot consume it every day.
So why not drink a cup of cacao each morning or sprinkle some nibs over your granola or porridge? This way, not only will you enjoy an instant boost, but you may just keep feelings of anxiety, irritability, and depression at bay.
Final Thoughts On Cacao And Mood
If you've been wondering, "what can I take to boost my mood?" give cacao a go. However, note that the quality of the cacao will determine the amount of goodness you get from it. Nibbed pure cacao is 100% certified organic, single-origin and handcrafted in small batches using only natural ingredients.