Cacao: Things You Didn't Know

Man holding cacao

Admit it, there are moments when you just want to indulge and be naughty just a little. But most of the time, guilt wins over and you let your cravings go altogether.

And this is the moment where we say congratulations for being so dedicated to achieving your fitness goals. But what if the cravings are so strong?

Fret not because cacao is here to save the day! Apparently, you can still indulge in chocolate provided it is cacao. This ancient nutritional powerhouse is chock full of vital compounds that offer amazing health benefits.

From enhancing your mood to protecting your heart against diseases, cacao satisfies your cravings without having to feel too guilty!

Find out how cacao helps to keep your mood swings at bay, prevent premature signs of aging, boost your metabolism, give you glowing skin, and a whole lot more! We’ve also rounded up the best ways to enjoy cacao in your diet!

What is Cacao?

Theobroma cacao, commonly known as the cacao tree, is a small evergreen tree that belongs to the Malvaceae family along with cotton, linden, durian, Hibiscus, and okra.

It is native to the tropical regions of South and Central America. At present, though, 70 percent of cacao is grown in West Africa.

The seeds of cacao or the cacao beans are used to make cocoa powder, chocolate, confectionery, and ganache. It has a nutty flavor with a bitter aftertaste.

A drink made from ground cacao seeds called xocōlātl is a bitter beverage famously enjoyed during the ancient times.

Today, a majority of the world population probably enjoyed cacao in some way as it is a key ingredient in many chocolate bars and other chocolate products.

Savoring raw cacao is the best thing, though, as it is packed with essential compounds that help to keep us healthy!

Cacao: Interesting Facts

  • A cacao tree takes five years to produce its first seed pods.

  • You’ll need 400 cacao beans to produce one pound of chocolate.

  • The United States of America celebrates National Cocoa Day every 13th of December.

  • The Ivory Coast is the top cacao producer all over the world. Its total cacao crop amounts to 1,448,992 tonnes.

What are the Health Benefits of Cacao?

Handful of cacao beans

For people with a sweet tooth, chocolate is definitely a no-brainer. It is commonly treated as a guilty pleasure or a personal treat.

Chocolates, however, are already processed and contain added sugars and other ingredients that may cause blood sugar levels to spike.

Cacao, on the other hand, is the purest form of chocolates that you can savor. It is thought to contain the highest amounts of antioxidants and the best source of magnesium among all the other foods.

Because of this, cacao proves to be a healthier choice when cravings call. Here are the reasons why:

Cacao enhances your mood

There are just some days when you feel sappy and need a reliable mood booster. In moments like this, you can trust cacao to deliver!

Cacao contains anandamide, a fatty acid neurotransmitter that is commonly dubbed as the bliss molecule. This compound has been linked to a feeling of euphoria.

What’s more, anandamide was said to possess anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties.

Cacao has calming effects

Aside from boosting your mood, cacao also helps to keep you calm, especially during that time of the month.

It also has the ability to raise the levels of serotonin, another neurotransmitter that promotes the feelings of happiness and well-being. During a premenstrual syndrome (PMS) period, women experience a drop in serotonin levels.

Cacao helps to boost this important neurotransmitter, so you can stay calm and still feel good.

Cacao improves sexual drive

Phenethylamine is also contained in cacao. This compound has been linked to enhanced athletic performance, improved attention and mood, and even weight loss.

It also helps to trigger the release of endorphins and opium-like neurochemicals, which naturally occurs during sexual activity.

Linked to sexual drive and feelings of pleasure, phenethylamine is sometimes called the “love drug”.

Cacao prevents the risk of heart diseases

Cacao also contains flavanols, a group of compounds within the larger family of flavonoids.

According to research, these substances support cardiovascular function and consequently, prevent the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Cacao is packed with more than 700 essential compounds and polyphenols that help lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels, and prevent the hardening of arteries.

Cacao combats signs of premature aging

Want to stay young-looking? Look no further than cacao! This nutritional powerhouse contains the same polyphenol antioxidants found in red wine and green tea.

The anthocyanins and catechins found in these healthy food sources guard our cells against premature oxidation and damage, allowing us to look and feel younger for longer.

Cacao boosts your metabolism

Raw cacao contains high amounts of magnesium, which reduces the adverse effects of stress on our bodies. As a result, our metabolism is enhanced. Magnesium also works to keep our cortisol levels in check and digestive system functioning optimally.

The anandamide and theobromine contained in cacao also work together to vitalize the body for a more metabolic burn.

Cacao enhances cognitive function

Cacao has also been linked to enhanced brain performance and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a systematic review of studies, the flavanols contained in cacao improves the brain’s structural and functional integrity. Cacao was also found to contain protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cacao helps to thin blood 

Research also found that cacao had an aspirin-like effect, altering platelet activation. Because of this effect, cacao helps to prevent blood clots and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Studies suggest that cacao consumption can be just as beneficial as taking an aspirin.

Cacao reduces the risk of skin cancer

Cacao also helps to guard the skin against harmful UV rays that can cause cancer.

Dietary flavanols from both cacao and cocoa were found to possess skin protective effects against sun exposure and help enhance the skin’s hydration and dermal blood circulation.

Because it gives the skin protection from exposure to sunlight, cacao is also able to prevent sunburn from occurring.

Cacao gives you a boost of energy

All of us probably experienced suffering from an afternoon slump, and cacao can give us just the right amount of energy boost to prevent this from happening!

It also helps to energize our bodies without overstimulating the nervous system, providing us with long-lasting energy to get us through the day.

Rich in magnesium, cacao fights fatigue and exhaustion, decrease blood pressure, and prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Cacao combats tooth decay

Several studies reveal that cacao can combat dental cavities, too! The beneficial compounds contained in cacao were believed to be more powerful than fluoride when it comes to fighting dental problems.

Researchers even speculate that cacao bean husk (CBH), a crystalline extract similar to caffeine, will one day be used in toothpaste and mouthwashes!

Cacao helps to keep your hair and nails beautiful

What with all it can do for your skin, hair, and nails, cacao is also considered a beauty food! Apart from magnesium, flavanols, and other antioxidant compounds, cacao is likewise a rich source of sulfur.

This chemical element, often considered a building block of hair, gives healthy hair its elasticity and strength. Sulfur also boosts collagen production, resulting in thriving skin, hair, and nails.

Cacao gives you glowing skin

Flavanol-rich cacao also helps to enhance skin texture, giving you beautiful, glowing skin. Not only does cacao protect your skin against harmful UV rays but also enhance your skin surface and hydration.

A study found that women improved their microcirculation, increased oxygen saturation, and enhanced their skin condition after consuming flavanol-rich cocoa.

How to Add Cacao Powder to Your Diet?

Glass filled with cacao drink

With its powerful nutritional value and fantastic health perks, we now have more reasons to love chocolates – its cacao content more specifically!

From enhancing your mood, reducing your risk of heart disease and skin cancer, to boosting your sex drive and keeping you good-looking, cacao proves to be a superfood worth savoring regularly!

The secret to enjoying its extensive health benefits is to eat it raw or make your own chocolate using raw cacao. Studies have shown that mixing dairy with cacao may hinder you from absorbing its rich antioxidant content.

So, it is best to consume raw cacao or create your own chocolate fix so you’ll also be more in control of the ingredients you’ll use. Should you decide to create your own choc, avoid added sugars and other unhealthy additives.

You can also enjoy organic cacao powder in your daily nutrition. Keep in mind that cacao powder is different from cocoa powder.

Unlike cocoa powder, cacao powder is minimally processed, which means that the important compounds and benefits of raw cacao are retained. You can add cacao powder to your smoothies, breakfast oatmeal, and baking recipes for that extra texture and flavor!

What are the Potential Health Risks of Consuming Cacao?

Much like coffee, cacao also contains caffeine, which can cause sleeplessness, abnormal heart rhythm, and anxiety.

Also, it may be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria just like any other raw food. To avoid these adverse effects, make sure to consume raw cacao moderately, and only get your supply from well-trusted and credible sources.

Takeaway

The health benefits of cacao are great news for all the chocolate lovers out there! Next time cravings call, turn to cacao and explore recipes where you can add it.

It’ll not only satisfy your cravings but bring you these fantastic health benefits as well! Just remember that as with all things, moderation is key. So, consume your cacao moderately.

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