As long as we get some chocolate, who cares where it comes from, right? Almost nobody thinks about what’s to be gained from eating chocolate – the taste is what matters. But what most don’t know is that in getting this smooth, dark, delicious slab of chocolate, a lot of nutrients are lost that are present in cacao.
No, cacao is not the same as cocoa. Cacao is the origin of cocoa beans and chocolate with a much bigger list of some amazing health benefits.
Difference Between Cacao And Cocoa
Cacao seeds are what you get from the fruits of Theobroma cacao tree, seeds that look like coffee beans. These seeds are then used to make cocoa products and chocolate. Post the Dutch processing to give it a darker hue, roasting, and fermentation, the chocolate slabs you buy contain no cacao or the nutrients it entails, such as epicatechins and catechins.1 While raw cocoa powder is also healthy, cacao gives you the utmost benefits since it’s raw and unprocessed.
Why Cacao Should Be Part Of Your Diet
1. Prevents Oxidative Damage
When your body lacks adequate antioxidants, free radicals get a free reign and damage the body in multiple ways. Enter cacao, seeds that are considered super fruits as they contain a higher level of antioxidants than most fruits!2 With phenolics and flavonoids, cacao absorbs free radicals, keep cells damage free, reduce oxidative stress and thus treat issues ranging from signs of aging to cancer!
2. Treats Mood Disorders
It’s no secret that chocolate can make you feel better on any given day. Cacao is no less! According to studies, cacao extract has been seen to create a favorable environment for serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that can improve your sleep quality, boost your memory, and treat depression. Further, the antioxidants contribute to a better mood by reducing oxidative stress.3
3. Regulates Diabetes
Wouldn’t it be amazing if eating chocolate could cure you of diabetes and end the family history with you? This isn’t possible, but you can come close. Studies show that dietary supplementation of cacao prevents blood glucose levels from going up. This is helpful in regulating and preventing health issues such as hyperglycemia and diabetes.4 While there is a lack of human studies, not much harm can come from a moderate, controlled intake of cacao.
4. Lowers Blood Pressure
A moderate short-term intake of cacao can lower blood pressure by increasing insulin sensitivity.5 While regular chocolate also does this, the presence of sugar and other additives in most chocolate bars nulls the benefit and also causes weight gain. Hence, cacao is the perfect food for you as it contains no sugar in its natural form.
5. Reduces The Risk Of Heart Disease
Cacao contains an alkaloid called theobromine, which is a vasodilator and a diuretic. Through this, cacao increases the good cholesterol levels (HDL) and decreases bad cholesterol levels (LDL), strengthening your heart and thus reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.6
6. Treats Inflammatory Disorders
Magnesium is a mineral naturally produced by our body that is important for nerve function, bone health, and to prevent inflammation. It is also a mineral that most people are deficient in and hence susceptible to diabetes, osteoporosis, inflammatory disorders, and more. To beat down all of these issues, all you need to do is take a little bit of cacao! In just 1 tbsp of organic cacao powder, you get 81 mg of magnesium, covering 20% of the recommended dietary intake.7 Combined with a healthy diet, cacao will keep you healthy and fit.
7. Treats Anemia
Feeling extremely fatigued constantly for no good reason? An iron deficiency might be at play! For a good source of iron, look no further than cacao. With high levels of iron (21.17 mg in 100 g), cacao won’t let anemia have a say in your life and keep you energetic and healthy.8 However, since you get non-heme iron from cacao, ensure you take it alongside vitamin C to boost its absorption.
How To Use Cacao
If you’re someone who loves 99% dark chocolate, eating raw cacao can be a piece of cake (just sugarless). Similar to cocoa, cacao can also be found in the form of powder, nibs, chips, butter, and more. You can add the powder to milk or smoothies for flavor, bake a cake with the nibs and powder, or use it in any kind of desserts.
The bottom line is this: a little bit of cacao every day can boost your health in many ways. However, as with all food products, excess cacao can do you no good. So, be in control, eat moderately, and as always, follow a healthy lifestyle and diet for the perfect life.
|↑1||Payne, Mark J., W. Jeffrey Hurst, Kenneth B. Miller, Craig Rank, and David A. Stuart. “Impact of fermentation, drying, roasting, and Dutch processing on epicatechin and catechin content of cacao beans and cocoa ingredients.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 58, no. 19 (2010): 10518-10527.|
|↑2||Crozier, Stephen J., Amy G. Preston, Jeffrey W. Hurst, Mark J. Payne, Julie Mann, Larry Hainly, and Debra L. Miller. “Cacao seeds are a” Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products.” Chemistry Central Journal 5, no. 1 (2011): 5.|
|↑3||Becker, Kathrin, Simon Geisler, Florian Ueberall, Dietmar Fuchs, and Johanna M. Gostner. “Immunomodulatory properties of cacao extracts–potential consequences for medical applications.” Frontiers in pharmacology 4 (2013).|
|↑4||Tomaru, Makoto, Hirohisa Takano, Naomi Osakabe, Akiko Yasuda, Ken-ichiro Inoue, Rie Yanagisawa, Tsuneto Ohwatari, and Hiroshi Uematsu. “Dietary supplementation with cacao liquor proanthocyanidins prevents elevation of blood glucose levels in diabetic obese mice.” Nutrition 23, no. 4 (2007): 351-355.|
|↑5, ↑6||Franco, Rafael, Ainhoa Oñatibia-Astibia, and Eva Martínez-Pinilla. “Health benefits of methylxanthines in cacao and chocolate.” Nutrients 5, no. 10 (2013): 4159-4173.|
|↑7, ↑8||Full Report (All Nutrients): 45094188, ORGANIC CACAO POWDER, UPC: 803813030512. USDA.|