Benefits of Cacao
Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

The Theobroma cacao tree, from which we get cacao, is used in various products throughout the world for its distinct and delectable flavours. The seeds and beans from the tree are found in drinking chocolate, cocoa solids, and liquor, among other things. Yet, cacao is not only used for its deliciousness, and there are numerous health advantages that come with it, too. Read on to learn about the many health benefits of cacao.

Raw Cacao vs Cocoa powder

Cacao, which is predominantly produced in the Amazon rainforests, is considered to be a superfood by many, due to the high prevalence of beneficial minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. It is commonly found in two different forms – raw cacao and cocoa powder.

Regular cocoa powder is typically roasted and heavily treated in a procedure known as “Dutch processing” – a process designed to reduce the bitterness and generate a mellower flavour than raw cacao. Yet, this treatment removes many of the beneficial properties in the process. Moreover, it is estimated that over half of the world’s cocoa production is not Fair Trade, meaning that many indigenous communities are being heavily exploited during the manufacturing procedure.

The health benefits of cacao in its raw form, however, are wide ranging and plentiful. The following points outline the many ways in which raw cacao is beneficial to our health.

Antioxidants

One of the major health benefits of cacao is that it contains a high quantity of antioxidants. The ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of cacao is a remarkable 98,000 per 100g – that’s around 40 times greater than the level of antioxidants in blueberries.

This high level of antioxidants is beneficial in a number of ways. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that antioxidants aid the absorption of free radicals from pollutants in the environment and, thus, can greatly reduce a person’s exposure to cell damage and certain types of cancer.

Iron

Finding good sources of iron can be difficult, especially for people on a plant-based diet. Yet, one should look no further than cacao for this property. Cacao has one of the highest levels of iron throughout all of the plant kingdom.

Albeit, the iron from cacao is non-heme (as opposed to the heme irons found in a lot of animal products), but a high intake of vitamin C can maximise the health benefits of cacao’s iron source. The level of iron found within raw cacao is 7.3mg per 100g – almost double the amount found in the notoriously iron-rich spinach. 

Magnesium

A further health benefit of cacao is the prevalence of magnesium found within it – there is over 300mg of magnesium per 100 grams of cocoa solids. Magnesium is widely known as an essential mineral for optimal cognitive functioning but is also one of the most lacking minerals in the Western diet.

Magnesium can help the body to transform glucose into energy and is advantageous to heart health.   Consuming cacao, therefore, is a great way to improve clarity, focus, memory, and other mental functions. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of cacao is 420mg per day for men, and 320mg per day for women. A nice warm cup of cacao can go a long way to fulfilling this.

Calcium

When it comes to calcium, most people turn to cow’s milk as their primary supply, believing it to be the best and most efficient source. Yet, although cow’s milk is a good source of calcium (125mg per 100ml), more of the mineral can be found within cacao.

Raw organic cacao has around 160mg per 100g and is one of the best sources of plant-based calcium for vegans and lactose-intolerant people. The benefits of calcium within a person’s diet include the maintenance of healthy bones and the optimal functioning of the heart and muscles. Those who are able to drink milk can even combine the two ingredients for an ultra-calcium rich drinking chocolate.

Antidepressant

The antidepressant properties of cacao can be attributed to the presence of serotonin, phenylethylamine, tyrosine, and tryptophan – neurotransmitters that have been scientifically proven to elevate mood and overall well-being.

The next time you begin to notice the onset ofthe  symptoms of depression, try to soothe your anxiety with a warm cup of cacao, or a bar of rich-dark chocolate – not only is it good for your soul and taste buds, it is proven to instigate happiness.

Weight Loss

A rather surprising health benefit of cacao is that its consumption can aid weight control. It does this in a number of ways, such as improving metabolic associations with cholesterol level, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity.

A 2016 study for the Archives of Internal Medicine journal even demonstrated that lower body mass index (BMI) scores were found within groups of people with a modest chocolate consumption, when compared to people who consumed less chocolate. Because of the weight loss management benefits of cacao, many people utilise it as part of a 1500 calorie meal plan.

FAQs

What are the health benefits of cacao powder?

The health benefits of cacao powder include the high presence of magnesium, iron, calcium and antioxidants. It is also a powerful antidepressant due to the neurotransmitters found within it.

When were the benefits of raw cacao discovered?

Evidence of cacao use dates as far back as 1900 BC, when the Olmec civilization in ancient Mexico cultivated it as a bitter, medicinal drink. Yet, the wide array of health benefits of cacao have only become apparent in recent years, with the increasing prevalence of scientific studies.

What percentage of cacao should chocolate have for health benefits?

The optimal percentage of cacao in chocolate is considered to be 70%. Many believe that this level of cacao has the best ratio of taste and sweetness to the health benefits that it provides.

What health benefits does raw cacao have?

Raw cacao has more health benefits than the regular cocoa that is used in most cacao products. This is because raw cacao is unprocessed and uncooked. It, therefore, retains all of the beneficial antioxidants and health advantages that are lost during processing.

What are the health benefits of cacao butter?

Cacao butter carries all the health benefits that raw organic cacao provides. Yet, although it isn’t inherently unhealthy, it has the potential to add a high number of calories to your diet. It should, therefore, be consumed mindfully.

What are the benefits of using cacao powder and maca gold?

Cacao powder and maca gold are often utilised for their health benefits. Aside from the antioxidants, calcium, and magnesium found in cacao, maca root is also extremely beneficial to sexual function and can greatly enhance an individual’s fertility.

What are the health benefits of cacao beans?

Although relatively uncommon, the cacao bean can be eaten whole and raw, and contains all of the regular benefits of raw cacao powder (reduced stress, high levels of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals, etc). It is much more common, however, to find cacao in powdered form.

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