While it's true that chocolate is often perceived as being bad for your health, with its high calorie and sugar content, there are certain forms of it that can provide numerous health benefits and are suitable to incorporate into your diet. You may have heard about the positive effects that dark chocolate can provide, but raw chocolate, or cacao, is one form with which you may not be familiar. Cacao is essentially the unrefined form of chocolate, a "superfood" comprised of beans that grow on the Theobroma cacao tree in Mexico, Central and South America. Roasting and grinding up the cacao beans primes them to produce cocoa, which is the foundation of most common forms of chocolate, like in the chocolate bar. However, as an alternative to roasting, simply drying the cacao beans at a low temperature keeps them in their most natural state, at which point they can be broken into pieces called “nibs” or even consumed whole.
Instead of ingesting a ton of unnecessary ingredients when you snack on a chocolate bar, try eating some cacao to satisfy your desire for chocolate but in a healthier manner. There are several significant health benefits which cacao beans can provide:
Cacao beans are rich in vitamins A & C, iron, magnesium and fiber—essential elements in maintaining great overall health. They also contain high levels of antioxidants called flavonoids, which may be able to provide protection against free radicals in your body and assist with repairing damage. In addition, raw chocolate may be able to contribute positive effects for your heart health, possibly helping to reduce high blood pressure, lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL), strengthen blood flow and contribute to making blood platelets less able to clot and clog up your arteries, says the Cleveland Clinic. Cacao also contains the chemical phenylethylamine, which can improve your mood and help you to feel alert.
Tips to Consider
Before you dive headfirst into a bowl of cacao nibs, there are a couple points to think about. While cacao beans are the basis for chocolate, they don't have the same sugary-sweet taste of the chocolate you may be accustomed to eating; cacao beans have a natural, slight bitter taste but still produce a rich flavor of chocolate. Also, cacao naturally contains caffeine, so it's important to keep an eye on how much you're consuming. Too much caffeine in your body can produce negative stimulant effects like rapid heartbeat, anxiety and shakiness, among other symptoms, according to Mayo Clinic
. Many cacao nibs are sugar free or contain only a small amount, so they are generally better for you than a chocolate bar, which can contain up to 80 grams of sugar. In addition, a serving of a popular chocolate bar has a calorie count usually starting around 160, whereas your average serving of cacao nibs contains about 130 calories.
Ways to Incorporate Cacao Into Your Diet
As it's a good rule of thumb to consume most foods in moderation, the same holds true with cacao. Here are some easy and healthy ways to incorporate raw chocolate into your diet for a boost of heart-healthy nutrients:
Munch on whole cacao beans straight from the container, or crush them up and consume them as nibs.
Grind up the beans into a cacao powder that you can use to make homemade chocolate milk and chocolate-fruit smoothies.
Use nibs as an add-on to your regular cup of yogurt.
Substitute cacao nibs for your typical chocolate chips in cookies, muffins, etc.
Make your own brownies using homemade cacao-based batter.
Blend some cacao with peanut butter for a sweet and creamy spread.
Add some subtly-sweet crunch to your favorite trail mix with cacao nibs.
As a healthy alternative to your everyday chocolatey snack, cacao beans provide health-enhancing properties while cutting out most fat and sugar. Let us know how you've implemented cacao into your nutritional plan, and check out our selection of cacao products at eVitamins today!