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Is Cacao Toxic?

We got an email this week from a concerned customer who had recently heard negative things about cacao including the claim that Theobromine (a natural compound found in the cacao bean) is a neurotoxin.  Since many of you are passionate about researching nutrition and health, it is possible that you have also heard or seen such claims. So I thought I'd share our response with all of you out there:

Thank you very much for contacting us with this excellent question.  At Gnosis, our primary focus is health and nutrition, and we love speaking with informed customers who share that passion! 

Let me start off by saying that nutrition is a very tricky science and has the potential to be both right and wrong.  This is one of the reasons that there are so many contradicting points of view out there!!  Every body is different and, in the end, you have to listen to your own body to determine what is best for you. 

Yes, cacao contains the naturally occurring chemical Theobromine.  Theobromine and Caffeine are related, but have different effects on the human body.  First of all, the effects of Theobromine are not as strong as those of Caffeine.  Theobromine also affects a different part of the body.  While Caffeine stimulates the Central Nervous System (the control center of the brain and behavior,) Theobromine stimulates the cardiovascular system.  A Neurotoxin literally means something that has an adverse affect on the Nervous System.  Since, Theobromine itself, to the best of my knowledge, does not affect your Nervous System, at the very base of the word, calling cacao a Neurotoxin is invalid.  Theobromine has many positive effects on the human body!  It has stimulating properties, diuretic properties and relaxing properties.  Caffeine, however, can absolutely be classified as a Neurotoxin.  Here is a great article that breaks down the differences:

It is true that cacao is toxic to dogs and other household pets because they're bodies are completely different than ours.  (We would not be very healthy on a diet consisting of dog food!!) 

Although very rare, there are some people who have an allergic reaction to cacao.  Many times, it is not the cacao that people react poorly to but the other ingredients in the finished product!  In conventional chocolate, milk and sugar immediately negate many of the positive effects of cacao (dairy binds to antioxidants, for example, rendering them useless) and add TONS of other health concerns.  Refined sugars are horrible for you!  This is why we do not use any refined sugars in our chocolate.  The agave we use is raw and unheated (read the full Agave Report here:  We now use organic Coconut Palm Sugar, which is derived from the nectar of the coconut tree similarly to maple syrup.  In addition to being low-glycemic like Agave, Palm Sugar has a complete nutritional profile, offering vitamins and minerals instead of just empty calories.  For those who cannot or do not wish to intake ANY sugar (INCLUDING fruit sugar,) we have a Zero G Bar that is sweetened with Stevia!  We even sell raw Cacao Nibs with our other Bulk Superfoods; eating Nibs is surely the best way to see how cacao, with no other ingredients, affects your body. 

We LOVE fruit here at Gnosis, and often spend our mornings eating fresh, organic bananas, mangoes, apples, or blending up some smoothies in the VitaMix!  It is true that there are some people out there who do not agree that fruit is good for you.  Again, every body is different.  We would never say that chocolate is better than a banana or that you should eat one over the other; they each serve different purposes, fulfill different needs, and react differently depending on the person.  We love both bananas and chocolate (and sometimes, the delectable combination of the two!!)

What this video did not mention (which is so often the case in any report or video that attacks a certain food,) was all of the wonderful benefits of cacao.  Cacao, raw chocolate, has a high amount of Magnesium, Phenylethylamine (the alkaloid that makes you feel in love,) Iron, Chromium, Manganese, Zinc, Copper, Vitamin C, Fiber, Tryptophan, Serotonin, Anandamide, to name a few, and is super high in Antioxidants.  Yes, cacao has fat in it; cacao has Omega-6 fatty acids, the same exact type of fat that's in avocados and coconuts!!  Your body does need some fats, just like it needs certain sugars and calories.  There are many books and articles out there that go in depth and break down cacao at a chemical level.  We recommend Naked Chocolate by David Wolfe and Shazzie.  Please note that heating and processing cacao over 118 degrees significantly diminishes all of the positive effects!!  If you are looking to eat chocolate for its nutritional benefits, be sure to check with the company to make sure they take additional verification steps in ascertaining the raw integrity and quality of their source!!  (Our cacao is all raw and has never been heated over 118!  Vanessa has personally visited the farms where we source our cacao and has written the Raw Integrity Project.)

There are many different health gurus out there, especially in the raw food scene, and we have the utmost respect for them!  Celebrating a message of better health and well-being is incredible.  While we do acknowledge that a small amount of dishonest people are just out there to make a buck, we definitely believe that the majority of them are focused on and passionate about sharing wellness with those around them.  Vanessa started as a holistic health counselor, and began making chocolate infused with medicinal herbs in her own kitchen as incentives for her clients and to show them that good, healthful food and traditional medicines can be tasty and enjoyable!  So many people fell in love with her chocolate, and Gnosis was born.  She, and all of us at Team Gnosis, do not think of what we do as just "selling chocolate."  We, just like other people in the health industry, are spreading the word about healthy, nutritious foods that we're passionate about and beyond that, about a marketplace shift from cold, distant, processed foods, to organic, vibrant, live, love-filled foods with a deep connection to the farmer, community and the earth. 

At the end of the day, all of us with words to share can only make suggestions.  The best advice I can give is to take in all of the information, do your own research if you'd like, but ultimately listen to your body.  Try eating raw cacao in small amounts without making any other dietary changes for a few weeks to see how it affects you.  Personally, I eat raw cacao almost every day, whether it's in a smoothie or a bar like one of ours, and it makes me feel great (which is probably why I work at a raw chocolate company!!) 

I hope that this information is helpful to you!  As always, please let us know if you have any more questions.  We are all so passionate here about what we do, and LOVE connecting with our customers!!

Thank you again!!  We look forward to hearing from you in the future. :o)


Team Gnosis


Reader Comments (2)

It's such a shame how much misinformation or misconstrued information is out there today. Thank you for taking the time to set the record straight. People need to know how beneficial raw cacao is to their bodies because it's truly the best way to enjoy chocolate. Thank you again.

August 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarcelina

OK, so what about the other properties of cacao/cocoa/chocolate? Please educate us about salsolinol, theophylline, phenylethylamine, and anandamide, other chemicals in chocolate that are questionable at best. I think I spelled some of these wrong, but you can check them easily. There is definitely a neurotoxin in cacao that causes depression, rage, irritability, and paranoia in a small - but significant - number of people. I'm especially concerned about the number of children who eat it every day as a "treat". I avoid it like the plague, but I'm middle-aged and learned the hard way that cacao is not my friend. I wonder what my life would have been like if I'd avoided it all along?

Chocolate is not a health food. It can be tolerated by a large number of lucky people, but it is a drug and a stimulant. It has antioxidants, yes, but so does nicotine and hemlock fungus. Should we eat those as health supplements too?

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMayDay

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