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RAW IN CUENCAWhat local superfood suppresses your appetite, makes you feel good, contains antioxidants, and tastes delicious?

by Susan Schenck

Cacao (chocolate in its pure form) may be one of the planet’s greatest sources of nutrition. As state in my book, The Live Food Factor, “It’s high in magnesium, making it a powerful brain food and natural laxative. Ten percent of its contents are antioxidants, making it a leading longevity food. Research has shown that it benefits the cardiovascular system, increases the ability of blood vessels to dilate, decreases hardening of the arteries, prevents platelet aggregation, and thins the blood. A Harvard University study of 8,000 males found that chocolate lovers lived longer.

“Chocolate has earned a reputation as ‘Nature’s Prozac.’ It keeps up levels of phenylethylamine, which increase the activity of neurotransmitters. This increases the activity of dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones that keep us feeling alert, alive, joyful and happy. Chocolate contains anandamide, a lesser-known neurotransmitter that creates bliss and a ‘high’ feeling. High doses can mimic a cannabis high. It is believed to contain monoamine oxidase inhibitors, which keep our neurotransmitters plentiful like those of children so that we can be as joyful, curious and excited about life as children are. Chocolate is also known to be an aphrodisiac, hence its popularity as a Valentine’s Day gift.” It’s also an appetite suppressant, which is why it’s found in so many weight-loss products.

Any food is more nutritious and delicious if in the unheated raw form. Where can we find raw chocolate in Cuenca? From a raw-food-enthusiast friend of mine who came here years before I did, I learned about Fátima’s, which sells chocolate in both processed and raw forms. Located on Calle del Batán 4-56, between El Oro and Remigio Tamaríz, it’s painted yellow on the outside with “Industrial Fátima” lettered on the wall. To the right of the door is a doorbell you must press, since the door is always locked. The telephone number is 288-0109 and the email address is industrialfatima@hotmail.com. The owner is Catalina Peralta M.

People refer to cacao as a bean, but actually it’s a nut. You can get a pound of raw cacao—the whole nut—for only $2 a pound! (Compare this with $10-$16 a pound in the U.S.) Just ask for the “granitos.” You can eat them as is; they make a great snack. Or you can crush them to a powder in a coffee grinder or heavy-duty blender and use them in a recipe.

My favorite cacao recipe:

1 ripe avocado

½ cup raw cacao in powder form

¼ cup raw coconut butter (Here in Cuenca, I haven’t found a source yet. Use coconut meat, avocado oil, or shredded coconut.)

¼ cup honey (preferably raw: if it crystallizes over time, it’s unheated)

Blend everything in a food processor. Store in the refrigerator.

Warning: Cacao is not without controversy in the raw-food community. For one thing, not all of it is truly raw (defined as not heated over 118 F). But most importantly, it contains theobromine, which has a similar effect as caffeine in stimulating the heart. Eating a large amount (more than two tablespoons or so) of pure cacao, or eating it late in the day, can keep you awake at night. The darker or more pure the chocolate, the more theobromine. I never eat the stuff after 3 p.m. I also would avoid cacao (along with most foods commonly eaten) while trying to heal from disease.

What if you don’t want to go to the bother of preparing raw cacao? You can get dark-chocolate bars at stores. The higher the percentage of cacao, the less sugar and the more of the good stuff. Kallari brand (found at Supermaxi and Coral) has up to 90% cacao! (Again, don’t eat too much or late in the day.) It’s also guaranteed organic, but it’s not cheap, costing around $2.50. My favorite is American brand, as it’s smaller and costs only 80 cents at Coral, 90 cents at Supermaxi. But it only goes up to 67% cacao.

After reading this, you’ll no longer need to feel guilty about your favorite treat!

Susan Schenck, LAc, MTOM, is a raw food, health, and weight loss coach and the author of The Live Food Factor and Beyond Broccoli. She resides in Cuenca and can be reached at livefoodfactor@yahoo.com.