Who doesn’t love chocolate? With its creamy texture and addictive taste, it’s the ultimate sweet treat. But apart from the really dark stuff, the health benefits are few and far between.
Unless you’re talking about cacao, that is. Boasting nearly four times the antioxidant content of regular processed dark chocolate, this raw treat is a definite exception to the rule. So what exactly are the health benefits of cacao? And how can you tap into them?
Cacao: The Lodown
Cacao might seem like a new health food, but its history actually spans thousands of years. The Incas considered cacao the drink of the gods – an association that inspired the cocoa tree’s scientific name, Theobroma cacao, from the Greek works theo (god) and broma (drink).
However, the drink that the Incas enjoyed is a far cry from the chocolate we know and love today. Whereas processed chocolate is made with roasted cocoa, milk and sugar – ingredients that actually block the absorption of antioxidants into the body – raw cacao is naturally fermented. Having undergone minimal processing, raw cacao nibs boast a huge number of phytochemicals, antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins, including sulfur, phenylethylamine and magnesium.
The Health Benefits of Cacao
1. Cacao could improve our mood
When you’re feeling down, chocolate might seem like a good comfort food. But did you know there’s actually a scientific reason for this feel-good factor? Studies have shown that cacao triggers the brain to release neurotransmitters, which in turn promote happy hormones. These include phenylethylamine, a compound dubbed the “love drug” because of the blissful feeling it promotes. So the next time you’re in need of some comfort, skip the sugary candy and reach for raw cacao.
2. Boost heart health
Cacao isn’t just good for mental health – it’s been proven to give the heart a boost too. A 2011 double-blind, randomized study found that as little as five grams of raw cacao can promote brachial artery FMD in healthy adults, decreasing the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases.
3. Cacao could promote weight loss
Chocolate isn’t usually considered a diet-friendly food, but scientists have discovered that cacao can help you lose weight. Although relatively high in calories and fat, cacao nibs are loaded with fiber. That means a small amount each day will satisfy your sweet tooth, while also helping you feel full for longer.
4. Magnesium boost
Magnesium is vital for a huge number of biochemical processes, but worryingly many Americans are deficient in this essential mineral. That’s why magnesium-rich foods like cacao are essential for good health. Packed with magnesium, cacao can potentially support muscle and nerve function, as well as helping manage blood pressure and muscle structure.
5. Help prevent anaemia
Anaemia can leave sufferers feeling weak, drained and in pain. Linked to iron deficiency, anaemia can be prevented and treated with a diet rich in iron, including foods such as beans, red meat, green leafy vegetables and, yup you guessed it, cacao. With only one ounce providing six percent of your daily iron requirements, cacao nibs can potentially help ward off iron deficiencies.
Interested in finding out more about cacao? Find out more below.