Raw chocolate – a recipe for sweet dreams? - by The Superfood Blog
Posted on June 04 2014
Thanks to a frenetic modern lifestyle in which we’re constantly switched on to social media and unable to switch off from work, it can be incredibly hard to unwind and enjoy a sound night’s sleep. In fact, getting a good night’s sleep has never been so difficult – according to the Great British Sleep Survey, more than 51 percent of us now struggle to nod off and our nation’s health is suffering demonstrably as a result. Professor Colin Espie of Glasgow University, co-founder of sleep organisation, Sleepio, which commissioned the survey, claims that insomnia is a “real medical issue that should be taken seriously”. Indeed, insomnia impacts our overall quality of life by directly affecting our mood, concentration and energy levels, which has significant repercussions for both our relationships and productivity at work, and increases our risk of falling ill. Colin argues that insomnia not only contributes to those diseases traditionally linked to a lack of sleep, such as depression, but also a number of chronic contemporary diseases, including diabetes.
Fortunately there are many ways to combat insomnia and rekindle normal sleeping patterns – such as making small lifestyle adjustments, like cutting down on caffeine and alcohol, taking plenty of physical exercise and having a regular bedtime, for example. Enjoying a healthy, balanced diet that’s rich in those superfoods that naturally induce sleep is another ideal way to encourage quality slumber. And believe it or not, raw chocolate is one such sleep-promoting superfood that can aid superior shut-eye and truly sweet dreams!
Raw chocolate… in the raw
Raw chocolate is made from unroasted organic cacao beans, which grow in the pods (or fruit) of the cacao tree – a small evergreen tree native to tropical regions of Central and South America. It incorporates three main species:
- Criollo – a delicate tree that yields a small amount of the sought-after criollo bean, an organic cacao bean with a thin skin, pale colour and sophisticated flavour.
- Forastero – a more robust tree that is easier to cultivate and boasts a large crop of cacao beans with a thick peel and a less refined flavour.
- Trinitario – a hybrid of the two. The Trinitario cacao bean combines the refined flavour of the Criollo with the high yield of the Forastero.
Harnessed by the Mayans and Aztecs as a valuable source of food and medicine for thousands of years, and used in both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, particularly for the heart, kidneys and spleen, today raw chocolate is considered one of the finest superfoods on our planet. It is pleasingly free from artificial sugars and fattening dairy products, and utterly brimming with beneficial nutrients, including:
- Vitamins – especially vitamin C, which helps to keep our cells healthy, heal wounds and support a healthy immune system.
- Minerals – such as iron, chromium, anandamide, theobromine, magnesium, zinc and copper. Raw chocolate is the richest dietary source of magnesium, which helps to lower blood pressure, and contains large quantities of chromium, an important trace element that is frequently used to manage blood sugar levels in those with diabetes. The Human Nutrition Center of the US Department of Agriculture also uncovered a number of studies that link the consumption of chromium to an improved body composition in the form of either increased lean body weight or decreased body fat.
- Fibre – the fibre in raw chocolate is associated with a prolonged feeling of fullness that can lead to demonstrable weight loss.
- Essential fatty acids – such as omega-6 fatty acids, which play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development.
- Antioxidants – including flavonoids, which have a pivotal role in circulation by preventing fatty acids from oxidising in our blood stream and making our blood platelets less ‘sticky’. This helps to prevent clogged arteries and reduce our risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.
- PEA (phenylethylamine) – known as the ‘love drug’, thanks to its impressive ability to heighten libido, PEA palpably improves concentration too.
- Anandamide – a neurotransmitter that actively promotes feelings of contentment and is analysed in more detail below.
- Tryptophan – an amino acid that is directly linked to improved sleep and is also analysed in more detail below.
Raw chocolate – the recipe for superior shut-eye and sweet dreams!
The regular consumption of raw chocolate products, such as organic cacao beans, organic cacao powder and organic cacao butter, correlates to a variety of compelling health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, increased energy levels and weight loss. Yet it is its power to trigger feelings of mental wellbeing and naturally induce sleep that makes raw chocolate truly special!
The amount of sleep we need varies depending on age – newborn babies for example sleep for around 17 hours each day, while adults require 7-8 hours per night. Insomnia, however, is one of the most common reasons for visiting our doctor. Irregular sleep typically manifests in a “vicious cycle” of racing thoughts, poor sleep and ultimately, anxiety about poor sleep. Catching up on lost sleep during the day only exacerbates an already bad situation by making it more difficult to get to sleep at bedtime.
Thankfully a little of what you fancy really does you good, because raw chocolate can help you to enjoy a better nights sleep, without resorting to sleeping pills or other costly treatments.
1) Raw chocolate is virtually caffeine free
Surprisingly, the raw cacao beans that raw chocolate is made from are extremely low in caffeine – the natural stimulant that is found in both standard chocolate products and coffee, and is known to thwart sleep.
2) Raw chocolate contains tryptophan
The tryptophan in raw chocolate is Mother Nature’s way of helping us to sleep. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that’s necessary for the production of:
– Serotonin, which transmits nerve impulses from the brain and manages our mood
– Melatonin, which activates chemical receptors in our brain to encourage sleep. In fact, melatonin supplements are often used to treat those suffering from insomnia.
Some forty controlled studies concerning the effects of L-tryptophan on human sleepiness and/or sleep have revealed that L-tryptophan in doses of one gram or more produces an increase in rated subjective sleepiness and a decrease in sleep latency (time to sleep).
3) Raw chocolate contains magnesium
Raw chocolate is extremely rich in magnesium, a mineral that is known to lower blood pressure and act as both a muscle relaxant and a natural sedative. Magnesium is also frequently used to treat restless leg syndrome, an overwhelming urge to move the legs, and occasionally the arms, which is often worse at night and can therefore frustrate sleep. As well as constipation, muscle tremors, cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain, a deficiency in magnesium may result in difficulty sleeping.
4) Raw chocolate contains anandamide
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that regulates pain, mood and appetite, and helps us to relax by promoting feelings of contentment. Its name comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’ and a team of US researchers now believe that this so-called ‘bliss chemical’ could form the basis of drugs treating a variety of neurological disorders, such as anxiety. Charlotte Brontë once wrote, ‘a ruffled mind makes a restless pillow’ – raw chocolate not only prepares us for a sound nights sleep, it also combats depression, one of the key issues associated with a lack of sleep. Indeed, a two-year study by Tokyo Medical University revealed that those not regularly benefitting from a good night’s sleep are twice as likely to suffer from depression.
In addition to the above, raw chocolate also contains theombromine, which helps to relax tired muscles, as well as phenylethylamine, which can increase mental alertness and improve our concentration – particularly useful when you have forgotten to indulge in your daily dose of raw chocolate the night before!
Enjoy raw chocolate, enjoy a sounder nights sleep!
Raw chocolate is made from a large selection of tempting raw cacao products including, organic cacao beans, organic cacao nibs, organic cacao powder, organic cacao butter and organic cacao liquor. And it boasts an incredibly intense flavour and a lovely rich aroma that’s utterly irresistible. So, next time sleep evades you, why not try reaching for a delicious square of raw chocolate instead of your usual glass of warm milk or sleeping pills?