There’s no denying it: everyone loves chocolate. It’s sweet, smooth and oh so addictive. In short, it’s the ultimate guilty pleasure.
But what if you could enjoy your favorite sweet treat without any of the guilt? Say hello to cacao. Bitter, nutty, and slightly chocolatey, these little nibs are nutrient dense and packed full of health benefits.
What is Cacao?
Trace almost any chocolate bar back to its origins and you’ll find the Theobroma cacao – a tropical evergreen tree, that’s also known as the cacao tree. Its superfood seeds, cocoa beans, are the basis of all sorts of cocoa and chocolate products. But after intensive processing, cocoa beans lose most of their nutritional clout by the time they reach the shop. As a result, even heart-healthy dark chocolate isn’t the wonder food it’s made out to be.
However, cacao is different. Having undergone minimal processing, raw cacao nibs contain an impressive amount of phytonutrients, including magnesium, sulfur and phenylethylamine.
Unsurprisingly, this means raw cacao offers a whole range of unique health benefits, from increased alertness to improved mood.
The Health Benefits of Cacao
1. Cacao Could Improve Our Mood
It’s a fact: chocolate makes us feel good. And not just because of the delicious taste. Researchers have found that cacao can help stimulate the brain into releasing neurotransmitters that can trigger feel good hormones. One of these is phenylethylamine, a compound known as the “love drug” thanks the blissful feeling of contentment it promotes.
On top of that, cacao is a top dietary source of tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to serotonin – the neurotransmitter linked to happiness. So the next time you’re feeling down, bypass the sugar-filled candy bars and reach for cacao nibs for the ultimate mood-booster.
2. Healthy Hearts
Chocolate isn’t just good for your brain – it’s been shown to help the heart too. According to many studies, there’s a positive relationship between intake of flavonoid rich foods like cacao and lower rates of cardiovascular-related mortality.
A 2011 double-blind, randomised study found that as little as five grams of raw cacao can significantly increase brachial artery FMD in healthy adults, potentially decreasing the chances of cardiovascular diseases.
3. Cacao Could Aid Weight Loss
Chocolate and weight loss aren’t usually two words you find in the same sentence, but surprisingly, cacao can help you shed those pounds. While high in fat and calories, cacao nibs are also packed full of fiber, making you feel fuller for longer. What’s more, this healthy snack that can satisfy your sweet tooth without derailing a restrictive diet.
4. Magnesium Boost
Boasting 64 milligrams of magnesium in every ounce, cacao offers an impressive amount of this vital mineral. With more than 300 biochemical reactions, magnesium is essential to full bodily health. Notably, it’s key to muscle and nerve function, keeping the heart rhythm steady, managing blood pressure and boosting muscle structure.
5. The Potential to Prevent Anaemia
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with anaemia, you’ll know that the condition can leave you feeling weak, tired and blighted with painful symptoms such as headaches and leg cramps. Caused by iron deficiency, anaemia can be prevented and treated with plenty of healthy iron-rich foods like green leafy vegetables, beans and red meat.
And now, you can add cacao to the list. With one ounce containing six percent of your daily iron needs, cacao nibs are chock-full of the stuff.
How to Make the Most of Cacao
Cacao nibs have a nutty chocolatey taste, but they’re certainly not as sweet as the chocolate you may be used to. So to make the most of this nutrient-rich ingredient, you can use it in all kinds of cooking, baking and smoothies.
For an addictive chocolate-hit, why not try mixing cacao nibs into your favorite trail mix? Thanks to its bitter, nutty taste, cacao even makes a great addition to savory dishes – so start experimenting!