Turbocharging the quality of your skin and life will inevitably at some stage result in the overhaul (or maybe it’s a slight improvement) in what you’re eating. I love a 3pm sugar hit as much as the next girl or guy. But what is a good, healthy, sugar hit chocolate substitute you can turn to? I’m very grateful, and very, very excited to be bringing you this exclusive interview with Pana Barbounis, the Founder of Pana Chocolate, one of the world’s leading raw chocolate brands that is distributed in over 25 countries, with over 3000 stockists here in Australia, and over 1000 stockists across the world.

Pana, can you tell us a little about your hero story on how Pana Chocolate was born? 

Pana: Absolutely. I’ve always been inspired by healthy living and healthy eating since I was a child. My parents were migrants and I was always encouraged to eat healthily, play, connect with the earth and really get an understanding of what healthy living really is. Like a lot of people, I experienced a transformation a little later in my life and decided I was really going to make a difference and develop my own raw chocolate product. I travelled extensively to conduct research and gain expertise in the area – I went to the UK and to Belgium to understand processes and chocolate making, came back to Melbourne and locked myself up for 6 months in a trial-and-error testing phase to develop the best chocolate I could.

I started by riding my Vespa (I don’t like being boxed up in a car) around Melbourne hand delivering my chocolates which I made, hand-wrapped and packaged, and that’s pretty much how it all happened!

Rebecca: I’d just like to highlight what a colossal achievement this is team. Pana started with 22 clients, now has over 4000 stockists globally and distributing to over 25 countries – and that is in just 5 very short years. What a phenomenal achievement!

So can you walk us through what makes raw chocolate, ‘raw’? 

Pana: Sure. Raw means that ingredients are extracted by a certain process and method that allows the original minerals, nutrients and vitamins to stay in tact whilst the products are being put together. A great example are cacao beans. Normally these are roasted at such high temperatures that there is little or no nutritional value in them by the time it hits your lips. But we don’t cook or extract any of over ingredients over 42 degrees Celsius, which means when you are eating the chocolate, you experience the health benefits you are supposed to from the original bean. Cacao for example is high in magnesium. For the fruits we use, we dehydrate them so the nutrients are still in tact but can still taste delicious. I didn’t set out to create a product that would have a long shelf life, I set out to create a delicious, wholesome chocolate that would be nourishing to our bodies.

Fun fact from Rebecca: Guys if you’re particularly stressed, magnesium is a great nutrient to help you de-stress. You can source magnesium from food (like the Raw Cacao Pana Chocolate bar!) or you can also opt for the magnesium spray. This is the one my family and I use, MagnesiumEase.

Rebecca: So basically team, you know when you see ‘cold pressed juices’ so that the juice from fruits and vegetables are extracted so they keep the nutrients and vitamins contained within them? This is the exact same process for chocolate – the ‘cold pressing’ (ie the extraction method of cooking the ingredients at under 42 degrees) means that the nutrients and minerals within the core superfoods like cacao, remain intact so you get the full benefit of eating the superfood, rather than a product that has been cooked to death with no nutritional value in it.

Pana: And I mean, these are the ways we are supposed to be nourishing our bodies. I’m delivering the ingredients in the way that mother nature intended because I think that it’s really important that we see food as medicine, and some of these superfoods really need to be extracted in the most beneficial way possible to help our bodies get to good health.

Rebecca: Guys this is so important. Pana highlights here the need to nourish our bodies through nutrition. Now I really want you to understand – food is not ‘food’ in the sense it’s something you just shovel down when you’re hungry. Food is information. It is the very thing that can code (and even unravel) your DNA. If used intelligently, food can be leveraged to nourish you to the best, healthiest, thriving version of yourself – why do you think peak performers perform so highly? It’s not just because of what they do, but look at how they live their lives. They eat exceptionally well, they move, exercise, sleep, rest and play. If food is used incorrectly, it can result in so many nefarious health defects: autoimmune disease, cancer, heart disease, diabetes – the list goes on as you know.

Rebecca: I also think it’s really important to understand that being healthy or having better skin isn’t just related to what you put in your mouth. Acne and bad skin isn’t caused by food per se, but it definitely does exacerbate it. It’s pertinent to highlight that there are other critical lifestyle factors that must be combined with eating patterns if you want to thrive, and be a peak performer – like sleep, playing, moving and exercising. Sleep in particular is sometimes so overlooked but one of the most important procedures to enable our bodies to rest as this is when it does a lot of the body’s best work to enable us to perform in the morning. I mean, it’s between 10pm and 2am that our bodies heal the most, so it’s so important to couple healthy eating, with healthy sleeping.

Pana: This is so true Rebecca, and I go to bed anytime between 8pm and 10pm to ensure I have a quality night’s sleep. I black my room out so it’s really dark – it’s so important to be sleeping in complete darkness and I use candles throughout the evening to make sure I have the right amount of light. If I do need to use light, it’s always the red light which is not as damaging as the blue lights which emanate from our computer screens and devices. I find it really easy travelling sometimes to get fantastic sleep – even hotels these days have amazing room designs to block out light. And look, this is all about balance at the end of the day. Yes we may go off track from time to time, but it’s really important to set those critical foundations that lead to a thriving lifestyle but of course there will be times when you get thrown off course, the foundations you set provide a framework for you to easily come back to so you just slot back in where you left off.

Rebecca: Pana raises such a good point here about sleeping. We really are earthlings – our human bodies have been designed to be in tune to both the sky and earth. Now you don’t need to tie dye your shirt and live on a commune to appreciate this concept – rather you need to understand it completely to use it to your advantage. The way we’re connected to the elements is called our circadian rhythm. We wake up in the morning in line with the sun rising and light. This is when our cortisol hormone peaks as it gets us up and running. Our cortisol depletes (or is meant to) throughout the day and is meant to be at it’s lowest in the evening when the moon comes out – when we secrete the hormone melatonin, our sleep hormone. The disruption we have is that the blue lights that emanate from our computer screens, ipads and laptops are interpreted by the body as sunlight (it doesn’t know any better). So when you’re giving your body sunlight in the evening, what is your body doing? Creating more cortisol instead of melatonin. Why is that problematic? You’re going to get poor quality sleep going to bed with elevated levels of cortisol instead of melatonin. Poor quality sleep = you’re cheating yourself of operating at your full potential. In short: turn the devices off at least an hour before bed. In an emergency, at least use these light blocker glasses. The darker your place and room before bedtime, the better off you’ll be!

So typically, as you may experience yourself Pana, we all get the 3pm sugar craving in our 9-5 unless you’re a cubicle escapee. Why is Pana Chocolate a better alternative to some of the more mainstream over the counter chocolates for that 3pm fix? 

Pana: Generally a carrot is a great snack! I mean I eat a couple of Pana Chocolate blocks a day but one of my favourites is the Eighty dark chocolate we have which I definitely recommend. It’s hard to pick a favourite though because they feel like they’re all my children! I do really love the Fig & Wild Orange. The Dark Chocolate is great as it’s 80% cacao and as you know, the cacao promotes so many health benefits as a superfood.

Rebecca: My Mum and I used to be absolute sticklers for Aero bars – I can definitely say if you like Aero’s, you will love the Mint flavour!! Carrots are definitely a great snack and thank you to Pana for setting such a great role model for us. I just want to highlight something here – carrots contain Vitamin A which is an essential fatty acid (EFA). An EFA is ironically essential to our bodies being able to work and function properly but unfortunately we don’t create EFA’s in our bodies – we have to ingest them from food and mineral sources. Once digested and converted, Vitamin A is known as a retinoid which in the context of our skin, helps to boost the glow and overall function of our skin. So if you’re looking for a skin superboost – a carrot as a 3pm snack will do wonders for you.

I love that on the back of the packet, the ingredients list is under 10 without any preservatives and you don’t need a dictionary to work out what some of the ingredients are. 

Pana: We’re definitely finding that consumers are picking up packages and reading the ingredients and paying attention to their bodies. People are becoming so much more in tune with their bodies and want to know what impact certain ingredients and products will have on their health which is a fantastic movement to see.

Finding Pana Chocolate 

I literally stumbled across Pana Chocolate flagship store in Melbourne this year on a family trip and have never looked back. I have a block of chocolate ready as a treat when I hit some of my big goals and absolutely love love love it as a way to get off the traditional over the counter chocolates, and onto the healthier alternatives. I recommend the Raw Cacao, one little block can leave you full, and feeling as if you’ve just eaten a brownie so you won’t feel like eating the whole bar in one go – great for both the hips, and the hip pocket.

Prefer to make your own?

Pana has also just released a fabulous cookbook if you want to get your hands dirty or make a healthy crowdpleaser. Take a look at the book here.

So what are the top 3 things we can learn from speaking with Pana? 

1.Raw chocolate as an alternative

Consuming chocolate where the ingredients are active in delivering the nutrients, minerals and vitamins we need is a fantastic alternative to existing over the counter chocolate products. And the responsibility falls on you to be a peak performer – no one is going to come up to you and just ‘tell’ you how to be the best version of you – only you have that responsibility as your goal, duty and purpose to be the best version of yourself so you can serve your family, your work, your community and most importantly, yourself. So make the decision to choose what you put in your body wisely. There’s nothing wrong with having the one off naughty treat here and there, that’s life right? But it’s critical that for at least 90% of the time, you’re striving for excellence, and using food as the right information will help you reach your full potential.

2. Balance

Pana has really led a model for us today encouraging us to see our lives not in hub-and-spoke pieces but as  holistic journey. What he is saying, is that it’s not just food that makes us healthy, but all of the other factors surrounding us that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. The environment we work and live in, our loving relationships, how often we move and exercise, the quality of our sleep, how much water we drink, how often we connect with the elements and spend time outside, what information we nourish our bodies with – all of these things contribute to a balanced life. Eating healthily but never exercising and continuing a toxic relationship will not serve you well – not only have I been there and lived through it, but want you to understand it so you can avoid that same pain. Leapfrog my negative experience and catapult yourself instead towards peak performance. A healthy balance between all of the elements will definitely get you there.

3. Grit

Now Pana didn’t discuss it directly, but this is a huge takeaway for me that I want to share with you from his story. Pana started hand delivering the product to 22 people and now has over 4000 stockists worldwide in just 5 years. This is a fantastic example of when you’re motivated, driven and in alignment with your core purpose, you can manufacture your destiny if you have enough grit. About 2 years ago I didn’t understand what this really meant, because I was a corporate drifter (ie floating in and out every day with a paycheque). This means I didn’t have big goals, hell I didn’t even have one goal. But what I can say, is that when you set yourself a goal that motivates you to get up at 5am (and enjoy looking forward to it) – you’ve found your purpose. Now this doesn’t happen overnight, so if you’re not at that stage yet, then don’t sweat. You can start by setting smaller goals that might be important to you. I mean you’re reading this because you’re hungry, you want to learn. So why not set a goal that you’ll listen to one podcast a week or month, or read a motivational book once a month? Like Jeff Bezos says about the success of Amazon – it’s not the big things that make a good company, it’s the additional of the small, daily habits that lead to big wins. So start somewhere, the goal doesn’t have to be huge, but just starting

will propel you on that path to success. And good on you for doing it!

Pana Chocolate was founded in Melbourne Australia and are Australian Certified Organic, Fairtrade certified, members of the Vegan society, Vegetarian society approved, EU Organic approved,  Halal and Kosher products.