The benefits of raw cacao

Divine Organics Cacao Nibs

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All health lovers will have undoubtedly heard of the nutritional powers of raw cacao. But what exactly is this superfood and do the health claims stack up?

Cacao, distinct from cocoa, refers to the tree and unfermented bean from the tropical evergreen Theobroma tree native to Mexico and South America. Raw cacao beans are dried at a low temperature and are readily available in several forms including cacao powder, cacao beans and cacao nibs.

True raw cacao products have a mildly bitter taste. To meet sweeter palettes, cacao beans are often roasted and ground to produce cocoa and, after further processing and additives, form the basis of chocolate. Unfortunately, by the time raw cacao is made into chocolate, it is highly processed, with little in the way of cacao’s beneficial phytonutrients and in its place, empty kilojoules.

We are much better off enjoying cacao in its raw form with its enzymes and antioxidants intact. Raw cacao is bursting with antioxidants, magnesium and many other nutrients to keep you feeling physically and mentally well.

Packed with antioxidants!

Raw cacao is packed full of flavonoids; powerful antioxidants that promote general health and may lower your risk of several diseases. Impressively, raw cacao contains four times the antioxidants of traditional cocoa powder lending it to ‘super-antioxidant’ status, and earning it a high ORAC score (a measure of antioxidant levels). Indeed, raw cacao beans rank higher in ORAC score than their antioxidant rich alternatives – acai berries, spinach, blueberries and even green tea!

The antioxidants in cacao are highly stable and easily available to human metabolism. This high concentration of antioxidants stabilise and destroy free radicals in your cells and tissues, help to prevent cellular and tissue damage, and defend your body from ageing caused by free radicals – big win!!

Heart Health

The flavonoid antioxidants in raw cacao also offer huge benefits for your heart health. Specifically, proanthocyanidin compounds can help decrease oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL – the bad cholesterol), which is oxidised and deposited in plaque. This ability to block LDL oxidation can prevent plaque formation, improving circulation and lowering your risk of heart disease!

These powerful flavanols can also increase the formation of endothelial (the lining of blood vessels) nitric oxide, which promotes the dilation of blood vessels, protecting the heart and aiding healthy blood pressure levels.

Mood Boosting

The beauty of cacao extends to mood enhancing benefits, which can be attributed to its sources of neurotransmitters, anandamide and phenylethylamine (PEA), which have a proven influence on feelings of mental well-being. Indeed, PEA and Anandamide are released when we are feeling happy and both are present in raw cacao at large enough quantities to influence and lift your mood.

Cacao also contains the amino acid tryptophan, from which the neurotransmitter serotonin is made. The tryptophan increases the production of serotonin in the brain and in turn, stimulates feelings of blissfulness and joy.

Magnesium packed!

This wonder bean is also a rich source of magnesium, an energy mineral and vital electrolyte necessary for calcium absorption, metabolism and protein synthesis.

The magnesium present in cacao also plays a big role in producing energy for the neurons in the brain from glucose. As a result, when we have an abundance of magnesium our brains works with greater clarity and focus. Pass the cacao stat!

So how can we incorporate this super antioxidant into our diet?

To reap the benefits, choose good quality, organic raw cacao powder available in most supermarkets or health food stores.

Add a teaspoon of raw cacao powder to smoothies, desserts, bliss balls or your choice of milk for a delicious hot chocolate. Add a dash of organic maple syrup or stevia granules to sweeten to your desired taste.

Cacao nibs are perfect for adding a delicious chocolate crunch to almond meal pancakes, porridge, granola, chia pods or smoothie bowls – yum!