Chances are, you’ve heard that dark chocolate is a healthier choice than is milk chocolate. And you may have also heard that dark chocolate can offer several health benefits. While that is true, it only applies to a particular kind of dark chocolate—raw chocolate, or cacao. A large portion of the dark chocolate you can buy is so processed that it loses a great amount of its nutrients and antioxidants. However, cacao beans health benefits remain intact. Raw cacao beans are truly to be considered a superfood. Read below to learn more about the benefits of raw cacao beans!
What are cacao beans?
Cacao beans are the fermented and fully dried seeds of the Theobroma cacao, or cacao tree. Harvested from this seed are the cocoa solids as well as, from the seed’s fat, cocoa butter. As you may know, cocoa butter itself boasts plenty of its own health benefits, and is often used as a moisturizer in the form of lotions and creams. Altogether, this plant offers some pretty impressive health benefits!
What about cacao nibs?
Cacao nibs are roasted cacao beans that were previously broken off from their husks and broken into smaller pieces. While extreme heat can destroy many of the nutrients cacao has to offer, often, cacao nibs are roasted at a lower temperature, which keeps many, although perhaps not all of the nutrients intact. Still, the cacao nib offers plenty of nutritional benefits, and it’s often less expensive than cacao beans.
While you can’t justify eating a regular candy bar as a healthy practice, then, you can and should start to incorporate raw cacao beans or cacao nibs into your diet. They may not be loaded with sugar, making the taste more bitter than you might like, but there are numerous ways to enjoy the benefits of this food! Furthermore, the health benefits are phenomenal, and prove, once and for all, we should be eating chocolate!
For example, here are 5 cacao beans health benefits:
1. Lowers Blood Pressure & Improves Circulation
If you’ve heard that cacao has health benefits, you may have heard that it contains flavanols. But what do these flavanols do? …A whole lot of good for your heart and overall health, that’s what! Flavanols are present naturally in many foods, including apples, pears, tea grapes, blueberries, and yes, cacao. But what does that mean for the health of our hearts?
What flavanols do for your heart:
The flavanols, theobromine and other agents cacao contains promote dilation, strength and health of blood vessels. As such, cacao beans health benefits include the ability to lower blood pressure. (1)
2. Supports Cardiovascular Function & Health
The cacao bean truly is a heart-smart choice! In this case it’s a triple-whammy, improving not only blood pressure and circulation, but also lowering cholesterol.
Cacao beans can help reduce cholesterol:
Indeed, cacao beans health benefits continues with the ability to reduce cholesterol levels. This is due to the flavonoid content as well as the essential minerals and vitamins found in cacao. These components can lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, lower cholesterol and reduce the buildup of plaque on artery walls. (2, 3)
Flavonoids are present in many plants, including the cacao bean. They are a type of phytonutrient that contain antioxidants, which help promote health in numerous ways, including improving the health of our hearts.
3. Neutralizes Free Radicals
By now, you may have heard about free radicals and the havoc they can wreak on our bodies. However, foods like cacao contain antioxidants, which can help scavenge for free radicals, preventing the damage they may cause.
Therefore, also on the list of cacao beans health benefits is the ability to help protect the body from disease. Cacao beans, with their high level of antioxidants, can fight free radicals within the body that arise due to sun exposure, pollution, and toxins in our food. These free radicals, left unchecked, can lead to a variety of diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
4) Improves Digestion
Many people seem to struggle with some sort of digestive disorder. This is often largely due to a poor diet, such as the Westernized or American diet, which often lacks proper dietary fiber. If you struggle with frequent constipation, you may not be getting enough fiber in your diet. This is where cacao beans can help.
Due to the fiber content, cacao beans health benefits include aiding in the digestive process. Fiber helps move food through your digestive system more quickly, which prevents constipation. Furthermore, cacao beans health benefits include the ability to stimulate digestive enzymes, also aiding in the overall digestive process. If you struggle with digestive issues, you may want to incorporate cacao into your diet.
5) Promotes Physical and Mental Health
If you are like many people, when you’re stressed, you reach for a chocolate bar. And chances are, during and after you eat the chocolate, you may feel a little better! Turns out, this effect isn’t just in your head. Then again, perhaps it is! To be more accurate, it’s more in your blood vessels. But what chocolate does for your body also helps your mind.
How chocolate promotes a healthy, relaxed mentality:
That’s right, cacao beans health benefits extend to your mental health, as well. There is a good reason why you feel happy after (and while!) eating chocolate. Cacao contains theobromine, which stimulates the nervous system, relaxes muscles and dilates blood vessels. This leads to a boost in energy as well an overall feeling of contentment. (4)
So, while you may think reaching for a sugar-filled, processed chocolate bar is what will make you feel better, you’re probably just fooling yourself. The sugar might give you a temporary energy rush and a slight spike in your happiness, but you’re being robbed of nutrients and ultimately doing nothing good for your overall health. Instead, switch to cacao beans or cacao nibs. Why not make it an experiment? See how raw cacao affects your mentality versus a sugary candy bar. What differences do you notice? Turn yourself into a believer!
The mental-health benefits continue!
Additionally, cacao beans health benefits include a vast amount of nutrients. For example, cacao contains alkaloids, proteins, beta-carotene, leucine, linoleic, lipase and lysine, all of which contribute to the improvement of physical and mental health. They are also good sources of potassium as well as magnesium, zinc, manganese and copper.
How to Incorporate Raw Cacao Into Your Diet:
Now that you know some cacao beans health benefits, you may be wondering how to fit this superfood into your diet. There are a number of ways you can enjoy cacao beans. For example, you can snack on them whole or crush them into nibs and add them to various snacks. Alternatively, if the beans are too bitter for your taste, grind them into a powder. This will help to better hide the taste in your foods and drinks.
Here are some ideas for using cacao in your food:
- Blend cacao nibs or cacao beans into fruit smoothies
- Add the whole raw cacao beans or cacao nibs to granola and trail mixes
- Add cacao nibs or powder to oatmeal or yogurt
- Mix cacao powder with your favorite nut milk
- Add cacao powder to your favorite protein drink
- Use cacao nibs instead of sugary chocolate chips in frozen yogurt, pancakes, muffins, cookies, etc.