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Is Raw Cacao Dangerous? How to Use This Superfood Safely

Jana is a strong believer in ingredient safety and transparency. She inspects cosmetics and food products to oust unhealthy goobers.

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What Is Raw Cacao?

Meet Theobroma cacao. Chocolate fans, get ready to hug this tree. That’s right; this is the source of all that is chocolatey. Native to South America, the tree’s seeds are used to produce cacao powder and cacao butter. Powder that has undergone minimal processing is called raw cacao.

A common misconception is that raw cacao is picked, smashed into a powder, and packaged. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as straight-from-the-tree beans. At the barest, all beans undergo processing like fermentation and heating. A better description of raw cacao might be “unroasted cacao beans.”

What Is Raw Cacao Used for?

The powder is used to make all types of chocolate. But raw cacao recently gained some traction as a so-called superfood. In case you are wondering, “What the heck is a superfood?'' It's basically anything that is packed with nutrients. Like, atomic level. A few examples are kale, salmon, and blueberries. It is worth noting that scientists and salespeople are still slugging out the validity of the term. Scientists think the word is a sales gimmick with no basis in research.

However, raw cacao is indeed packed with nutrients and minerals, especially magnesium, iron, flavonoids, and a compound called phenylethylamine. That last goober improves physical energy and a good mood (which is why so many people reach for a candy bar when they feel blue).

Not everybody sprinkles the stuff on their food to enjoy a healthier lifestyle. Some people just want the chocolate powder on their pudding or use it to make a comforting hot drink.

A cacao pod straight from the tree. The white centre holds the seeds.

A cacao pod straight from the tree. The white centre holds the seeds.

What Makes Raw Cacao Dangerous?

Raw cacao can be dangerous in different ways. For starters, it contains theobromine. Consuming too much of this compound (which is very possible considering chocolate’s wonderful taste) can lead to unwelcome side-effects like nausea, trembling, and sweating.

Eating too much raw chocolate can also trigger other side effects (see below) or interfere with medication.

Common Side Effects

  • Anxiety (brought on by the caffeine content of the beans)
  • Bleeding disorders might get worse due to its anti-clotting properties
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cacao could interfere with diabetic stability as it elevates blood sugar levels; it can also interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery
  • The caffeine content can also worsen glaucoma, diarrhoea, GERD, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and IBS
  • Migraines

Common Interactions With Medication

Besides interfering with diabetic treatments, caffeine has a moderate effect on other medications as well. This is the biggest issue when it comes to the pills people take and the cacao they consume. Here is a list of medications that might become less effective due to caffeine.

  • Adenosine (Adenocard)
  • Dipyridamole (Persantine)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Ergotamine (Ergomar)
  • Lithium and other medications for depression, including Nardil and Parnate
  • Estrogens. Side effects include rapid heartbeat, headaches, and feeling jittery
  • Asthma medications
  • Birth control pills
  • Theophylline
  • Phenylpropanolamine
  • Antibiotics
  • Cimetidine (Tagamet)
  • Mexiletine (Mexitil)
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Fluconazole (Diflucan)
  • Verapamil (Calan, Covera, Isoptin, Verelan)
Raw cacao powder is an ingredient in many desserts and drinks.

Raw cacao powder is an ingredient in many desserts and drinks.

The Safe Dosage for Raw Cacao

The jury is still out on this one. However, some companies that sell the product recommend a daily limit of 5 to 20 grams. Some studies have also shown that consuming between 50 and 100 grams a day can cause symptoms like terrible headaches, excessive sweating, and trembling. The safest route is to stay within the limits suggested by the brand you use (tip: use only responsible companies that care about your health).

What Are the Benefits of Raw Cacao?

Now that you are sufficiently terrified (sorry), how about some good news? There is no reason why you cannot enjoy cacao safely. Stick to the recommended daily intake, and you can look forward to the benefits mentioned below.

A Short Summary

One tree changed the world. When people discovered Theobroma cacao, the rest became sweet history. One of the products produced by this tree is raw cacao powder. When consumed in excess or together with sensitive medications, the risks might not be worth taking. However, when raw cacao powder is enjoyed within the daily recommended limits, it offers amazing health benefits.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Jana Louise Smit

Comments

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on October 30, 2020:

Hi Centfie, good question - no easy answer! It would appear that nobody can agree when cacao becomes cocoa. Some feel that cocoa is the more finished product, like a bar of chocolate. While others say both words are just different spelling for the same thing. :)

Centfie from Kenya on October 29, 2020:

Interesting information. I didn't know that raw cacao is edible. When does cacao become cocoa? Is it the same thing?

Sp Greaney from Ireland on October 29, 2020:

Yes, that word 'superfood' is everywhere these days. I think not over consuming too much of a good think is the way to go. I also think as long as you stick to the recommended dose the benefits are worth it.

Lorna Lamon on October 29, 2020:

Thank you for sharing this informative article Jana and as a lover of chocolate I will definitely stick to the recommended dose.