Cacao is one of nature’s top superfoods. It’s rich in antioxidants, particularly polyphenols, which have numerous health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. And cacao is packed with vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, iron and potassium. So let us spill the beans and help you figure our the health benefits of cacao.
What is cacao?
Food Thoughts’ organic and fairly traded cacao comes from cocoa beans that have been naturally dried in the sun. The beans are cold-pressed to remove most of the fat (cocoa butter) and then finely ground to create Cacao Powder, or crushed and roasted to make Cacao Nibs.
Top health benefits of cacao
Cacao is packed with antioxidants, fibre, protein, calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals. These nutrients have numerous health benefits, including:
- Helping your heart to stay healthy
- Lowering your blood pressure
- Reducing your risk of diabetes
- Promoting digestion
- Reducing post-exercise inflammation and fatigue
- Supporting your brain power
- Helping you to lose weight
- Boosting your mood
Of course, cacao should never be used instead of medication. However, it’s a great addition to a healthy diet. Let’s take a closer look at some of those benefits…
Raw cacao for a healthier heart
Cacao is rich in flavanols – a type of polyphenol. These help to keep blood vessels healthy and improve blood flow. Cacao may also help to reduce cholesterol levels. So, including cacao in a healthy diet might help to reduce your risk of heart problems and strokes.
Cacao and blood pressure
Several scientific studies have found that cacao can help to lower blood pressure. While it should never be used instead of prescribed medication, cacao may be a good option if you don’t yet need medication and want to bring your blood pressure down naturally.
Why cacao might reduce your risk of diabetes
While sugary milk chocolate is usually off the menu if you have diabetes, raw cacao can actually have a beneficial impact, as it’s been found to improve insulin sensitivity and control blood sugar levels. Some scientists believe that cacao may even help to reduce your risk of getting diabetes in the first place.
How cacao aids digestion
Fibre is essential for good digestion and a healthy gut. Try swapping your usual mid-morning snack for a handful of Cacao Nibs. They’re rich in fibre, packed with nutrients and have a satisfying nut-like crunch.
Cacao after exercise
Post-workout inflammation can lead to fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain and cramps. So, as well as stretching after exercise, you’ll want to eat a healthy snack to help your muscles to recover.
Many sports physicians recommend chocolate milk made with natural cacao powder after exercise. (Mo Farah apparently swears by chocolate milk for post-exercise recovery.) Cacao contains theobromine, magnesium, protein and carbs. Together, these help to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, fight inflammation and reduce fatigue.
You can read more about the benefits of eating cacao after working out here.
Cacao and your brain
Those flavanols we keep mentioning can also help to improve blood supply to the brain, which is crucial for cognitive function. Several studies have turned up promising results for people who drink cacao or cocoa every day. For example, one study found that mean blood flow velocity increased by 8% when elderly people were given a daily drink of flavanol-rich cocoa. Another study even suggested that dark chocolate might help to reduce the risk of dementia.
Cacao and weight loss
Chocolate is often the first thing people cut out when they’re trying to lose weight. However, raw cacao, which has no added sugar, might be worth adding back on the menu. Why? Well, the caffeine and theobromine in cacao could help to boost your metabolism and reduce cravings. You can read more about the link between cacao and weight loss here.
Cacao to boost your mood
Magnesium has been linked to reduced anxiety, depression and stress. Cacao also naturally increases serotonin – AKA the happiness hormone.
Surprising raw cacao benefits
Cacao is often described as a superfood as (gramme for gramme) it contains significantly higher quantities of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other health-boosting nutrients than most other foods. For a start:
- Cacao contains more calcium than cow’s milk.
- Cacao has 50 times more vitamin C than blueberries.
- Cacao contains more antioxidants per 100g than acai, goji berries or blueberries.
- Cacao helps to protect the nervous system.
- Cacao has around twice the amount of iron as spinach.
- Cacao is gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free and suitable for vegans.
Is cacao the same as cocoa?
Cacao and cocoa come from the same beans, but they’re processed differently. There’s an extra step to make cocoa powder – alkalisation. This brings out the chocolate flavour and reduces the bitterness, but unfortunately it also reduces the nutrients. Some brands also add sugar to their cocoa powder.
Food Thoughts Organic Cocoa Powder is only lightly alkalised, to keep as many of its nutrients as possible. And we don’t add sugar or any other ingredients. However, if you want to reap the full raw cacao benefits, we recommend you choose Organic Cacao Powder over Cocoa Powder. You’ll find it in the baking aisle of most supermarkets and can also buy it in bulk from our shop.
You can read more about the differences between cacao and cocoa here.
How do you use cacao powder?
Cacao is as versatile as cocoa powder and will add a super chocolatey taste to your creations. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- Smoothies / smoothie bowls: Make a delicious chocolate smoothie by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of raw cacao powder to your mixture. (This Cacao, Almond and Peanut Butter Smoothie is well worth a try.)
- Vegan chocolate milk: Blitz a tablespoon of cacao powder with a glass of almond or oak milk.
- Hot chocolate: Swap cocoa powder for cacao powder to make a rich hot chocolate with an intense flavour.
- Bakes: Use cacao powder instead of cocoa powder for brownies, cakes and other bakes. It does have a stronger, more bitter flavour though, so probably best for dark chocolate lovers.
- Chocolate: Make your own healthy chocolate bars.
For more inspiration, check out our recipes. Just filter for cacao powder.
How do you use cacao nibs?
Cacao Nibs are roasted and crushed cacao beans. They have all the same health benefits as cacao powder, including being high in iron, magnesium and calcium. Cacao nibs have a nutty texture and don’t melt when they’re baked so can be used to replace nuts or chocolate chips in brownies and other recipes. They’re also perfect for bringing extra crunch to granola bars, biscuits and cookies. Or sprinkle a few cacao nibs on top of your smoothie to add fibre.
Despite the texture, cacao nibs are nut-free so they’re a great swap for people who have a nut allergy. Looking for a healthy alternative to chocolate? Try our Chocolate Coated Roasted Cacao Nibs.
Where to buy raw cacao
Our Cacao Powder is raw, organic and meets the International Cocoa Organisation’s highest ‘Fino de Aroma’ standard for excellence. It’s also fairly traded, naturally gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free and suitable for vegans.