What if we told you that chocolate is actually good for you? Well, a specific type of chocolate that is: cacao. All chocolate is derived from the cacao tree, but despite being from the same tree there are different types that set each apart from each other in terms of nutritional value.
What is Cacao?
Cacao has been around for centuries, dating back to the Mayan times when it was traded for currency and valued for its medicinal benefits. It is considered a functional food for its various health benefits and contains more antioxidants than other superfoods like blueberries or açaí. Cacao is good for you because it contains nutrients like magnesium and iron, in addition to an abundance of antioxidants called polyphenols and flavonoids.
Cacao vs. Cocoa
Something to keep in mind is that cacao and cocoa are not the same thing. Both come from the cacao tree but their processes are what sets them apart. Cacao is processed at low temperatures, which retains its nutrients and is considered raw or minimally processed. Cocoa, on the other hand, goes through rigorous processing and roasting to remove the bitter taste, which strips it from its nutritional content. Many products containing cocoa also have a considerable amount of added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to enhance its taste.
Generally speaking, cacao is what makes dark chocolate good for you. The higher the percentage of dark chocolate, the higher cacao content it has.
Benefits of Cacao
Cacao is rich in antioxidants - particularly, flavonoids which are part of the polyphenol family and have been found to have various anti-aging benefits. Research shows that cacao can reduce wrinkles, improve skin elasticity, decrease roughness of skin, and lessen the appearance of sunspots. The antioxidants found in cacao also help our skin fight against free radical damage. When our bodies have an overload of free radicals, it can cause harm to our cells. Additionally, science shows that cacao can help boost skin health by restoring damaged skin cells and protect the skin against UV damage.
2. Boost Mood & Reduce Stress
Consuming cacao is a natural way to boost your mood. Cacao contains flavonoids - antioxidative agents that have been found to help improve mood. Research indicates that cacao is effective in increasing contentedness, has positive benefits on mood, and can help reduce stress.
3. Improve Cognitive Function
According to science, antioxidants can help improve cognitive ability and play an important role in therapeutic strategies to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Cacao is a powerhouse of antioxidants (particularly flavonoids) and can help improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow to the brain. Moreover, studies have found that consuming cacao can improve mental clarity, brain function, and restore working memory.
4. Can Help You Lose Weight
The antioxidants found in cacao (polyphenols) have been effective in helping to lose weight, especially when paired with exercise and a healthy diet. Moreover, cacao has the ability to increase energy expenditure (total number of calories burned each day), improve normal bowel movement, and have beneficial effects on satiety - the body’s ability to manage hunger and curb cravings. So, next time you’re craving chocolate, skip that chocolate bar and swap it for cacao for a satisfying yet beneficial treat.
5. Improve Sleep Quality
Inadequate sleep can decrease collagen levels. That said, research states that theobromine, a compound that is naturally found in cacao, can help you fall asleep and stay in deeper sleep for longer periods. Moreover, cacao is rich in magnesium, a nutrient known to promote relaxation and improve overall sleep quality.
6. Boost Libido (Sexual Drive)
Some people may know the old urban legend that chocolate has “love chemicals”, but do you know why?
Cacao can boost sexual drive by producing “feel good” chemicals in the brain, particularly, dopamine and serotonin. According to science, another compound found in cacao called phenylethylamine (similarly to serotonin) can arouse feelings of excitement and in turn, boost libido.
7. Lower LDL Cholesterol
Studies indicate that cacao can significantly lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol). This is due to theobromine - a naturally occurring compound found in cacao. In fact, research shows that theobromine has the ability to naturally lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Things To Note
Cacao contains low levels of caffeine so, those who are caffeine sensitive should be more mindful when consuming cacao.