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Is Raw Cacao Toxic?

Raw Cacao Toxic Oliviabudgen Blog

There’s no doubt that raw cacao (chocolate) in its many forms (powder, nibs, paste etc) is absolutely delicious. It is touted as a superfood, boasting many amazing health benefits. But there is a vast majority of people in the wellness movement who claim it is toxic to the body and should have no place in one’s diet.

In this article I have done my best to outline the different points of view and my personal experience and to craft a conclusion based on my research.

HISTORIC USE OF CACAO

The use of chocolate had many ritualistic, spiritual and political meanings for the ancient people throughout history. Cacao was considered a “God Food” and was used in combination with hallucinogenic mushrooms in religious rituals. Native people also regarded cacao as a medicinal herb to treat a range of conditions including diarrhoea, kidney infections, scorpion bites and fatigue.
The Mayans fermented, dried, roasted, removed the cacao shells, and ground them into paste. This was often combined with water, cornmeal, chilli peppers, and other spices, then poured back and forth between two containers to create a frothy head.
Later cacao was also prepared as a drink where the cacao beans were mixed with cornmeal, honey, vanilla, chilli and other spices. This nutritious drink was the most common Mayan method of consuming chocolate. The “superior”, ones who could afford to, would savour it at the end of a meal. Cacao beans were so highly valued that they were used as currency.
After doing some research, it seems that cacao was savoured and used in very small portions, which is very different to the abundant daily use it receives these days.

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS

Raw cacao is rich in magnesium, iron, chromium, vanadium, copper, zinc, phosphorus and contains the highest concentration of antioxidants in the world. Its magnesium content supports the heart, increases brain power, relaxes muscles, and helps build strong bones. Its iron content  keeps the blood healthy and fights anaemia, while its zinc content strengthens the immune system and maintains healthy nails, skin and hair.
Cacao is a “delivery vehicle.” It dilates the cells, working to drive nutrition deep into the body, which is why it’s so great in combination with other medicinal food and herbs.

NEGATIVE EFFECTS

Cacao’s stimulating effects makes people believe it’s high in caffeine, when in fact, it contains only a minute amount of caffeine. The similar alkaloid, theobromine, is what gives cacao its most stimulating effect. Caffeine is said to be a nervous system stimulant, whereas theobromine is a cardiovascular stimulant, increasing heart function and blood flow. Cacao contains double as much theobromine than caffeine.
The stimulating effects of cacao has the potential to impair liver function as well as exhaust the adrenal glands if consumed in large amounts. Its overuse can also cause anxiety, rapid heart rate, and insomnia in the short term. Long term effects can include addiction, irregular heart beat and chronic fatigue.
Some say that the quality of cacao has an impact on the way it affects the body. David Wolfe explains that about 100 years ago many different hybrid types of raw chocolate surfaced, claiming to be real raw cacao. When in fact they are genetically modified, not wild grown and have been heavily fermented. How much the quality affects the downsides of cacao – I’m not sure.

THE PROCESS OF CREATING CACAO PRODUCTS

Author and Health Educator Frederic Patenaude says:
“Some people claim that raw cacao is perfectly healthy because it’s a fruit. Because I live in Costa Rica half the year, I know what a real cacao fruit is. There’s a sweet/acidic pulp surrounding the seeds, and the way to eat the fruit is simply suck on the seeds like a candy, and then throw away the seeds! Why? They are not edible and taste horrible in their completely raw, natural state”.
Another controversial topic is the process of creating cacao products. Once harvested, cacao beans need to be fermented before they are edible. A lot of the microbes that assist this process create toxins called mycotoxins which destroy nervous tissue, suppress immune function, and are carcinogenic. Their concentration depends on the correct harvesting, fermentation and storage of the beans. So I understand this is where the quality of the cacao you consume really matters!

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

When I first discovered raw cacao powder 6 years ago, I instantly fell in love  with the deep rich chocolatey flavour and consumed it every day with no issues. Unfortunately, over time and for some reason, I developed cardiac arrhythmia (fast and irregular heartbeats) after eating it.
After many months of experimenting with how much raw cacao I could have without the negative side effects, I chose to give it up, because it seemed no matter how little I had, I always experienced arrhythmia.
I’m not entirely sure, but I believe the cause of the downsides was my weak adrenals and the nervous system issues I was dealing with. This resulted in my body becoming very sensitive, especially to natural stimulants. On the other hand, there are many people who have never suffered from adrenal issues, but also feel the same effects.

HOW MUCH RAW CACAO SHOULD YOU CONSUME?

First I want to express the importance of choosing a super high quality cacao. Look for products that are 100 percent raw and certified organic including cacao paste, butter, powder, nibs, and beans.
If you are generally healthy and have a strong adrenal function you may not feel the stimulating side effects of raw cacao and therefore can consume more than someone who is affected. According to David Wolfe, a suitable amount of cacao would be 3-4 beans (1 tsp) per 100 pounds (45kg) of body weight per day. David then goes on to say that an excessive amount of cacao would be 11-33 beans per 100 pounds of body weight.
If you are or have experienced adrenal exhaustion, I would recommend only consuming raw cacao every once in a while (experiment for yourself) or completely avoiding it until until your health is back on track.

CONCLUSION

I believe we should respect raw cacao’s historic usage and medicinal qualities and not go overboard with its consumption. If you show signs of sensitivity, listen to your body and avoid it completely. Otherwise, experiment with the amount and see what works best for your body and mind.
Inspiration: http://rawfoodsolution.com/is-raw-cacao-toxic/
Olivia xo

This blog, its content and any linked material are presented for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. Nothing contained in or accessible from this post should be considered to be medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing, or a promise of benefits, claim of cure, legal warranty, or guarantee of results to be achieved. Never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog or in any linked material. Olivia Budgen is not a medical doctor. Consult with a licensed healthcare professional before altering or discontinuing any current medications, treatment or care, or starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, or if you have or suspect you might have a health condition that requires medical attention.

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22 Responses to Is Raw Cacao Toxic?

  1. Thank you for this article! I have experienced exactly what you have in relation to the heart issues after consumption; and my body also tries to expel it by way of pimples the day after I have some. It also blocks up my digestive system.

    Thank you for sharing some truth about cacao; it isn’t all it is purported to be in the mainstream health circles and I do believe it is going to harm a lot of people if they aren’t mindful of the dangers and also don’t source high quality cacao…

    • Hi Brie, thanks for your comment and so glad you can relate to what I experienced too! I think it’s important to look at both sides of certain foods to ensure they are being eaten appropriately for your body xo

  2. wow I had the same thing it would make me super high and then I would crash and I felt I had severe adrenal fatigue to the point I was barely able to get up and I would get spots all over my face, it would take one or two days to recover, I can literally only take tiny amounts. I believe it is more designed for ceremonial use.

  3. I’ve realized over the years since I discovered raw cacao ( about 6 years ) is that I start craving it every day. When I don’t have it then I have to consume more of it. At this point I don’t buy cacao butter or powder anymore however I do buy a potent,small raw cacao truffle at least every day,sometimes more than once a day. I don’t know how I will ever be able to “quit” raw cacao ! I’ve just promised myself I won’t have one for another week and hope I can make it. At times when I used to make my own raw chocolate my skin would get inflamed from eating so much of it. I also think it is partially hindering me from some weight loss.
    It’s incredible how cacao is marketed as a “superfood” and really misleading.

    • Hi Tajna, thanks for sharing your experience with raw cacao. I hope you can find a healthy balance with it. I would recommend doing a juice cleanse for 5 or 7 days to help reset your taste buds 🙂

  4. Have you tried using raw cacao nibs rather than powder? I wonder if it is better the less processed it is.

  5. Hi Olivia,

    I also wrote an article called “Is Raw Cacao Toxic?” in 2010. It looks like maybe you got some inspiration for your article from it.

    http://rawfoodsolution.com/is-raw-cacao-toxic/

    We seem to have had very similar results with cacao, although after some time detoxing and healing my adrenals I am now able to better tolerate it, though I now have much more awareness about how to use it with moderation. Just half a teaspoon used to make me dizzy and light-headed but now I can get away with a tablespoon without any obvious effects.

    Still I don’t think it is a good thing to consume on a daily basis as the potential for negative effects on the adrenals and neurotoxicity is cause for concern for anyone with a long-term history of chronic illness.

    • Hi Mizpah,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I certainly did draw some inspiration from your wonderful article. My sincere apologies – I have added your article down the bottom of mine. (I’m not always good at remembering to do that!)

      It sounds like we definitely have had the same type of experiences. I am still dealing with adrenal issues, so hearing your story makes me feel hopeful that I will one day be able to consume raw cacao again… as it’s SO delicious!

      <3 xo

      • Thanks for the acknowledgement. I still have adrenal issues as well as it takes a really long time to heal them. I know I can’t eat cacao every day but it is nice to be able to enjoy it again once in a while. Carob is nice too but there is nothing like the real thing 🙂

  6. I normally do not read health comments or respond. I raw cacao in 3# package and consumed 3 tablespoons (1/2 x 2). It was my sleeping pills for at least a year with my atrial fibrillation without medication for 20 plus years. For several years I consumed Hersey 100% Natural Coco. I change later to the raw cacao. In my short story, my legs were infected and resulted in extreme insomnia, apnea, a stroke, and heart attack. I was not taking the raw cacao. This last year I had a blood clot and had to have stents put into both legs. Now having to take medications, I only consume about 1+ tablespoon at night and sleep like a baby. My cacao is mixed with colostrum, whey, and stevia. I do not have colds or flu and do not take shots. Nothing has shown up on my blood lab tests or any of your other experiences that have been reported. Maybe I grew out of it since I am now 82 and keep moving.
    Obviously things are happening and should pay attention. I will monitor these symptoms and see if it changes as I wean my self off the medication. The doctors are not on my side. Keep up sharing new info because people are all different and cannot believe things will have the same results.
    Respectfully, Kirby Hughes

  7. Hi,

    I am interested into looking into adding this into my diet. If I’m not mistaken in Jamaica this is native to our country too. However, I kept doing my research saw all these harmful things but everyone is speaking about eating this raw. That’s not how it’s supposed to be consumed. That’s like eating quinoa as you buy it “raw”. I think a lot of companies are trying to sell false advertisement for people to buy in a trend. I wouldn’t call it a super food, but it does have better and more natural benefits than how cocoa is processed. I suggest everything in moderation. Not everything works for everyone.

    Kale is a well known super food, but for women who have hypothyroidism it is an absolute no no for their diet. So to conclude I felt this was a great article, however moderation and knowing when to consume something as raw or cooked. And to be aware of companies jumping on this raw and healthy ban wagon.

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