You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate is good for you, right? It certainly has some amazing health benefits. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about Dairy Milk or even that 70% dark chocolate bar you’ve been eyeing at the grocery store checkout counter. I won’t argue that cocoa is the root of all evil, however if you’re looking to reap all of dark chocolate’s benefits you are going to want to look for the word cacao during your trip to the supermarket
Cacao is not a fancy or French way of saying cocoa. Although cocoa and cacao originate as the same bean from the same pod, the difference between them lies in how they are processed. The cocoa bean grows on trees in fruit pods. These pods are harvested, then cracked open, which is where we find our beloved cocoa beans; between 20-40 of them.
To make cocoa, the cocoa bean is roasted at very high temperatures, whereas cacao is never heated above 47 degrees Celsius. The application of heat is what destroys the majority of the cocoa bean’s high nutrient and antioxidant content. The same is true for cold pressed juices: the nutrient density in these beverages is very high, compared to their pasteurized counterparts who have succumbed to the nutrient stripping effects of heat. Once the beans have been roasted and processed, they are called cocoa. The abuse doesn’t end there. Nutrient poor cocoa powders often contain nasty additives such as sugar, sweeteners or hydrogenated oils or butters, which further reduce the quality of the product. Cacao on the other hand is raw, free of fillers, unprocessed and comes with a plethora of benefits including but not limited to the following.
Lower Insulin Resistance
Goodbye, diabetes! It is proven that raw cacao raises blood sugar less than any other food. A recent studio, observed how diabetic mice reacted when they were administered cacao liquor, that contains 72% polythenols (a flavonoid antioxidant). Their blood sugar levels dropped significantly, presenting a causal relationship between cacao liquor and a reduction in blood sugar.
Protection from DNA and Skin Damage
Thanks to its high antioxidant (flavonoid) content, cacao has many anti-aging benefits. Raw cacao can contain up to 20x more antioxidants than blueberries and 3x more than green tea. It isn’t just high in antioxidants, but it is ranked highest in antioxidants among foods that contain them.
We already mentioned that cacao is high in flavonols. Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many, many diseases, and is often caused by foods that we eat, such a meat and dairy products. Consuming less of these foods, and more cacao, we can drastically reduce our body’s inflammatory response.
Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
Conditions associated with the heart are the number one killer globally, according to the World Health Organization. Cacao contains more than 700 compounds that have been shown to protect our heart against cardiovascular disease as well as reduce our risk of stroke, while improving blood circulation. In addition to all of this, cacao can help to lower LDL (low density lipoprotein; the unhealthy cholesterol) levels as well as reduce the rate at which atherosclerosis (a disease caused by build-up of cholesterol on the walls of the arteries which subsequently becomes hardened by fibrous tissue and calcification) develops.
Improved Sleep and Energy Levels
A good night’s sleep is crucial for overall health and longevity. Cacao contains high levels of magnesium, which has been proven to aid individuals suffering from insomnia, as it decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, regulates melatonin, and supports muscle relaxation. When we sleep better, we naturally have increased energy levels, but magnesium is double threat as it is also a critical mineral in energy production.
It’s no secret that happier people live longer. Anandamide, a fatty acid neurotransmitter found in cacao, is affectionately known as the bliss molecule, as it elicits feelings of euphoria. The superfood also contains phenethylamine, an amine, which stimulates the release of endorphins and happy hormones dopamine and serotonin.
It is fairly logical to deduce that the less processed an ingredient is, the more nutrients it will contain. Cacao is no different. In its raw form, cacao’s nutrition profile assists with nearly every bodily function. High in vitamins, minerals, and healthy macronutrients, consuming cacao will surely improve not only longevity, but one’s quality of life. Though many lifestyle changes can seem unattainable and daunting, this one is quite simple. During your next trip to the grocery; choose raw cacao powder & cacao nibs instead of cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips. These two simple swaps can make a big difference. Your body, and your taste buds, will thank you.
The Author: Daina Kenins
Daina is a lover of all things health & wellness related; a health food connoisseur, an avid marathon runner, a certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher and a spin studio manager. She is ambassador for healthy eating and loves to create and share recipes on her instagram page @thepaleobean.