Cacao as a Coffee Alternative
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By Fiona Riddle
Coffee can be considered a superfood in many ways, and while there is nothing inherently unhealthy about it, some people experience negative side effects that may inhibit productivity, mental clarity, and general sense of wellbeing throughout the day. Coffee’s most notable side effects include heightened anxiety and a racing heart, and it can also cause stomach cramping, acid reflux and indigestion in those that are sensitive to its effects.
“Cacao is the raw, unprocessed version of cocoa and can be brewed in a similar way to coffee”
If your morning cup of coffee is leaving you feeling over-stimulated, anxious, and maybe even a little nauseous, it may be worth considering swapping your coffee for a more mild alternative such as cacao. Cacao is the raw, unprocessed version of cocoa and can be brewed in a similar way to coffee, or can be made by simply mixing cacao powder with hot water or milk of choice. It creates a delicious morning beverage like hot chocolate, but with multiple health benefits and brain boosting effects without the addition of excess sugar.
“…consuming coffee, and large amounts of caffeine in general leads to a buildup of adrenaline”
The well-known “coffee jitters” are due to caffeine’s role as a vasoconstrictor, which constricts the blood vessels causing the heart to have to work harder to pump blood. This can make us feel more anxious and jittery. Additionally, consuming coffee, and large amounts of caffeine in general, leads to a buildup of adrenaline, and if you are simply sitting at your desk all day and not engaging in cardiovascular exercise, it has nowhere to go. An increase in adrenaline can lead to an increase in blood pressure as well, further exacerbating palpitations and jitters.
Plus, consuming it later in the day, even just after 12pm, can make it harder to fall asleep, thus impacting your circadian rhythm and restfulness the following day. Unfortunately, a poor night’s sleep and waking up exhausted will lead most people to reach for yet another cup of coffee, further perpetuating the cycle.
“Cacao […] is rich in theobromine, a bitter tasting compound with stimulant-like effects similar to caffeine but that are much more mild and do not cause jitters or heightened anxiety.”
Cacao on the other hand is rich in theobromine, a bitter tasting compound with stimulant-like effects similar to caffeine but that are much more mild and do not cause jitters or heightened anxiety. And unlike caffeine, theobromine actually widens blood vessels allowing for more blood flow and potentially lowering blood pressure. By increasing blood flow to the brain, it can cause a boost in brain functioning and alertness.
“…theobromine has a more stable, long-lasting effect than caffeine.”
Interestingly, the brain boosting effects of theobromine take about 2-3 hours to peak, whereas caffeine’s impact peaks after just 30 minutes. This might suggest theobromine has a more stable, long-lasting effect than caffeine and may not cause such a drastic increase and subsequent crash in energy.
One study found that drinking brewed cocoa (a processed version of cacao) increased participants’ reactivity and processing speed and minimized the number of errors made on an assessment. It was also found that combining the cocoa with caffeine significantly reduced feelings of anxiety when compared to those who received only caffeine. Thus, in addition to the beneficial impacts on energy and focus, theobromine has also been found to have a positive impact on mood and anxiety.
Cacao is also nutritious with high levels of flavanol polyphenols and numerous essential vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. A serving of cacao powder contains 25% of your recommended daily intake of magnesium, which is required for a number of bodily functions including muscle and nerve function, energy production and blood pressure regulation.
“Among the many different nutrients in cacao, there is a rich concentration of flavanols, plant compounds which, upon consumption, have been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline.”
Among the many different nutrients in cacao, there is a rich concentration of flavanols, plant compounds which, upon consumption, have been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline. Research also suggests that adding these flavanols to your diet through cacao might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by protecting arteries as well as increase cognitive functioning.
If you are thinking of taking a break from coffee or are hoping to cut back your consumption, cacao is a great option. It allows you to maintain the morning ritual of consuming a warm beverage while offering health promoting benefits as well as mood boosting properties. And if you are not ready to give up coffee quite yet, combining coffee and cacao may help to minimize the feelings of anxiety that coffee can bring on.
Fiona Riddle is a Certified Health Coach with a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She is passionate about a holistic approach to health when working with her private coaching clients. She is an avid cook, constantly creating and sharing new recipes on her Instagram (@feelgoodwithfi) to showcase simple clean home cooking. She has helped clients take their health into their own hands and successfully boost their energy and confidence through sustainable lifestyle changes. www.feelgoodwithfi.com