If you’ve visited a health food store or specialty market in recent years, you’ve probably noticed more and more products touting the virtues of cacao.
In this post, we’ll be answering the pertinent question - ‘is cacao good for you?’ We’ll also be expanding on some of the amazing health benefits.
Cacao is jam-packed with flavonoids, nutrients that have been shown to improve blood flow to the brain and heart, aid in preventing blood clots and reduce overall blood pressure. Cacao also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that your body produces to make serotonin, a brain chemical that helps you relax, further lowering blood pressure.
The flavonoids in cacao also help reduce your risk of diabetes by increasing insulin sensitivity.
Because cacao powder contains a great deal of potassium, it helps to decrease the risk of heart disease. Along those lines, it has also been seen to lower body inflammation and stress on cells.
Finally, by decreasing body inflammation, cacao may decrease the risk of certain cancers, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
So it’s clear cacao powder has a number of substantial health benefits … but how does it line up in terms of nutrition?
Two tablespoons of cacao powder typically contain the following:
Additionally, cacao is high in iron and magnesium. From its high protein to fiber to iron and magnesium, cacao can improve anyone’s diet.
Cultivated mainly in West Africa but originally domesticated in South America some 5,000 years ago, cacao trees are best known for their production of two products using the same bean: cocoa, and their lesser-known counterpart, cacao.
Cocoa and Cacao are processed into nibs and powders, and they share similar chemical and structural qualities. The difference is that, in making cocoa powder, cacao beans are roasted under extremely high temperatures. This process creates the iconic smooth, sweet, chocolatey taste we associate with cocoa.
When making cacao products, on the other hand, cacao beans are minimally processed at much lower temperatures, which results in a more bitter, less sweet taste. The processing distinction is key as it allows for cacao to retain the nutritional value that cocoa loses during the heating process. It’s the reason health experts are quick to note the virtues of cacao over cocoa.
Perhaps the most common way to enjoy cacao is as a substitute for cocoa powder. Because of the similarities in flavor and function between the products, cacao powder can act as a more nutritious stand-in for cocoa powder in your favorite desserts. That said, cacao powder absorbs more liquid than cocoa, so liquid measurements in recipes will need to be adjusted accordingly.
Many “healthy” dessert recipes call for cacao powder because of just how nutritious it is. For vegetarians, cacao powder can bolster a meatless diet, offering supplements of iron and other nutrients that a veggies-only diet often lacks. An easy vegan dessert is “chocolate banana nice-cream” where you blend frozen bananas, cacao powder, and a splash of your favorite plant-based milk alternative.
Besides being a great substitute for cocoa in desserts, cacao also works well in smoothies, hot drinks, or sprinkled over fresh fruit. In its nib form, it tastes amazing in a bag of trail mix or as a dark chocolate substitute more generally.
Perhaps you’re thinking it’s too good to be true - a nutritious alternative to chocolate? In a way, it is. Like anything tasty, you should avoid too much of a good thing.
A two-tablespoon serving of cacao powder has about 50 grams of caffeine, which is around half the amount of caffeine in a standard cup of coffee. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, cacao may negatively affect your sleep.
Also, because cacao powder is often used as a substitute for cocoa powder, it can find its way into rather unhealthy desserts. That being said, know that swapping cacao for cocoa won’t magically turn a chocolate cake into a super healthy food option. Always be mindful of the recipe at large, not just the substitutions that offer health benefits.
Lastly, those who don’t enjoy dark chocolate, often some find cacao too bitter. If you’re one of those people, then enjoying a handful of cacao nibs alone likely won’t be your cup of tea.
Overall, however, cacao is an excellent addition to any healthy lifestyle and it is good for you. If you’re sold on making the leap from cocoa to cacao, we have one final suggestion. Daily Crunch makes an excellent cacao-flavored sprouted almonds snack. Sweet, keto-friendly, and oil-free, this amazing treat can be enjoyed on the go or as a healthy dessert substitute. Sprout your day right with cacao + Daily Crunch!