Move over, fad diets and health scams! It’s time to reveal the truth about the health benefits of the ever-desired, yet ever-avoided indulgence foods. We’re putting the spotlight on cacao. This raw-bean product has been misunderstood (and often misspelled) for so long, but its centuries-long legacy as a delicacy and a commodity far surpass modern misconceptions and grammatical errors. Listen no more to the lamentations of dieters avoiding fat, carbs, or indulgent, “unhealthy” foods—such as cacao in its wonderful, antioxidant-rich forms.
The ancient Aztecs considered cacao precious enough to act as currency. While this type of exchange no longer exists, the sentiment remains. Science has, however, brought forth research to tell us what we were hoping all along -- that cacao has many beneficial health properties! The Aztecs were on to something. Before you run to the store with excitement and stock up on milk chocolate bars, consider this: chocolate and cacao are not the same things.
The Difference Between Chocolate & Cacao
Chocolate is a highly processed candy treat. While chocolate contains cacao (often as cocoa powder), it also includes a host of other not-so-healthy ingredients, including refined sugars, soy lecithin, and artificial preservatives. Dark chocolate can contain these ingredients, too. Now that's a recipe for an unhealthy and guilt-inducing treat! Furthermore, the nutritional qualities of cacao are degraded through intense, high-heat processing. But raw cacao? Raw cacao products are simply a lightly processed form or an isolated part of the cacao bean. No further ingredients are added. Some examples include raw cacao powder, raw cacao nibs, and cacao butter. These products are created through fermentation, light roasting, dehydration, or extraction.
The Potential Health Benefits Of Cacao
In its unadulterated form, cacao has many potential beneficial health properties. Here are 8 reasons why you should toss your preconceived notions of “unhealthy” cacao out the window and bring our cacao products into your diet:
1. Cacao is high in antioxidants.
Cacao contains higher amounts of antioxidants than green tea, red wine, blueberries, and goji berries. Antioxidants are important to help prevent many forms of lifestyle diseases, including various cancers, heart disease, and diabetes. To measure a food's antioxidant capacity, an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score is given. Raw cacao powder (summarized as dark chocolate) tops the list as one of the highest antioxidant-rich foods (source).
2. Cacao may reduce the effects of depression.
Is it any wonder we reach for the chocolate when we're feeling down? Cacao contains a chemical property called anandamide, which is said to reduce the effects of depression via its euphoric effects (source). While cacao is no replacement for treatment or medicine, it can be a quick pick-me-up for any bad day.
3. Cacao is naturally low in sugar.
Clearly we're not talking processed chocolate here. The pure cacao bean is naturally low in sugar. Furthermore, it contains high amounts of essential fatty acids, making it a great low-carb snack!
4. Cacao is high in fiber and iron.
A 1-ounce serving of our non-fermented cacao powder contains around 15% of your recommended daily intake of iron and 28% of your fiber requirements. No need to feel guilty about sneaking tasty treats into your diet when they can help fuel your body.
5. Cacao may lower blood pressure, the risk of cardiovascular disease, and the risk of Parkinson's Disease.
Cacao contains high amounts of polyphenols. Studies have shown that polyphenols may help to reduce oxidative stress and insulin resistance. These are both important factors in potentially reducing blood pressure and heart disease risks (source). Additionally, polyphenols can help protect you from (or even delay) chronic neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease (source). While we would love for cacao to be a cure for such diseases, we know that it at least can help arm your body against them.
6. Cacao might help you lose weight!
Research suggests cacao may help with weight loss by improving mitochondrial biogenesis and increasing muscle glucose intake (source). Of course, having a healthy, balanced diet is an important factor in losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, but cacao is a part of said balanced diet.
7. Cacao may reduce cortisol and inflammation.
Cacao contains a specific flavanol called epicatechin, which has been attributed to cacao's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potency (source). Cortisol is the body's stress hormone that produces the fight or flight response when we feel fearful, stressed, or in danger. Unfortunately, too much cortisol floating around the body also leads to inflammation (source). Have you ever reached for chocolate when you feel stressed? Now you know why!
8. Cacao contains a wide variety of micronutrients.
Micronutrients are vital to your health and help to promote healthy bones, hair, skin, and nails. Cacao is rich in a number of micronutrients. These include magnesium, chromium, copper, zinc, and calcium to name a few. Cacao can make a wonderful addition to your diet along with eating a wide variety of health-promoting foods. It's important to source high-quality and organic cacao powder, such as Wildly Organic's raw fermented cacao powder and non-fermented cacao powder. Again, additional processing may degrade many of these nutritional benefits (sources 1, 2).
About Wildly Organic's Cacao Products
Wildly Organic's raw cacao products (fermented and non-fermented cacao powder, organic cacao butter, and organic cacao nibs) come from sustainable family farms in the Dominican Republic. Our non-fermented raw cacao powder has antioxidant activity as exhibited by an ORAC score of 1549 μmol TE/g -- higher than any other raw cacao powder! Our powders and nibs are cold-pressed. A high accuracy thermometer ensures that our raw cacao products are truly raw. The temperature is never allowed to exceed 120° F and is usually 104° F (all other cocoa powders are exposed to temperatures as high as 300° F!). Wildly Organic stocks a wide range of raw and organic cacao products, which you can find here!
Did you know all these benefits of cacao? What are your favorite ways to use cacao as part of a healthy lifestyle?