When we think of chocolate, we don’t automatically think of nutrition. But amazingly, cacao – a powder made from cold-pressed unroasted cocoa beans – is packed full of vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Iron, potassium, zinc, calcium and manganese are just some of the nutrients packed into this tasty superfood, not forgetting magnesium – a mineral that’s vital for more than 300 biochemical processes.
We’ve taken a look at the wider health benefits of cacao here, but in this blog, we explore the wide-ranging health benefits of magnesium in particular and the importance of cacao as a health mineral source.
Studies that boast of chocolate’s amazing health benefits aren’t usually talking about your standard store bought chocolate bar. Instead they’re referring to raw cacao. As a minimally processed product, cacao nibs preserve the living enzymes found in cocoa while removing the fat. In contrast, cocoa powder is roasted at high temperatures, a process that changes the molecular structure of the cocoa bean, thus lowering the enzyme content and reducing the klout of any naturally occurring nutrients. This makes raw cacao – whether it takes the form of powder or nibs – the most nutritious option, especially if you’re looking to add more magnesium to your diet.
Magnesium isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s essential to all kinds of biochemical reactions. Without magnesium we could not produce energy; our cholesterol levels would be all over the place, and our muscles would be in a permanent state of contraction. So it’s fair to say, it’s pretty important. Yet despite this, the majority of Americans are thought to be lacking in magnesium.
That’s where mineral-rich foods like cacao come in. Providing up to 499 mg of magnesium per 100g, raw cacao is a healthy source of this miracle mineral. And from headache relief to anxiety reduction, magnesium has a whole host of incredible health benefits.
Ever suffer from muscle pain after an intense workout? Well magnesium may be able to help. Research shows that magnesium plays an important role in managing neuromuscular signals and muscle contractions. On top of these base functions, studies have found that magnesium helps to relax overworked arterial smooth muscle, helping to ease those common post-workout aches and pains.
Known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’, magnesium doesn’t just help to relax muscles – it can ease mental stresses too. Early studies indicate that magnesium may be effective at treating a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and stress. One study of 264 people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder found that a regular magnesium supplement led to reported improvements in mental wellbeing.
Magnesium can work as a muscle relaxant, making mineral-rich cacao a useful treatment for migraines or tension headaches. Studies suggest that chronic migraine sufferers frequently have magnesium deficiencies – in fact, this is one of the most common symptoms of magnesium deficiency. So boosting your intake of magnesium may well result in fewer tension headaches.
If you’re suffering from IBS or constipation, cacao may well be your best friend. Boosting your magnesium levels helps neutralize the acids found within your stomach, making it easier for digested food to travel through your intestines.
You’re no doubt familiar with how to make the most of chocolate, but what about cacao? Bitter, nutty and totally addictive, these crunchy nibs aren’t like your average chocolate bar. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be as delicious. Try blitzing them into your morning protein shake for an extra cocoa-hit; tossing them into trail mix; or adding cacao powder to a bean chilli for extra depth of flavor.