The Health Benefits of Cacao

By Justine Haarberg

In its simplest terms, cacao is the raw form of chocolate. Although it is more bitter than milk chocolate, it has a rich flavor that many people enjoy. Cacao is a seed from a small tropical American evergreen tree that most forms of chocolate are derived from, and  happens to be a little known “superfood”. A superfood is rich in nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial substances. Cacao is definitely not as common as fruits or veggies, yet still contains a significant amount of nutrients.

What exactly are the health benefits of raw organic cacao?

  1. Highest Plant-Based Source of Iron

Cacao happens to be the highest plant-based source of iron, containing 7.3 mg per 100g. Beans have around 5 mg per 100g and spinach has about 2.7 mg per 100g. Iron helps your body transport oxygen to your tissue.

2. More Calcium Than Cow’s Milk

Per every 100g of cacao, there contains 160 mg of calcium, compared to 125 mg per every 100 ml of milk. You can get your calcium intake through a couple squares of raw cacao if you don’t want the extra dairy that you get with milk.

3. Full of Magnesium to Support Heart Health

Raw cacao is also rich in magnesium, which happens to be the most deficient mineral in the natural world. Magnesium helps form proteins and regulate the nervous system, but most importantly, it converts food into energy. Cacao could be the snack you need to give you energy throughout the day or during a late work night. It can be hard to get a good amount of magnesium even with a healthy diet, but eating cacao can help with that deficiency.

4. Mitigates the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

Because the nutrients in cacao improve nitric oxide levels in the blood, the function of blood vessels is enhanced, reducing blood pressure. Along with reduced blood pressure, cacao reduces LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol, which reduces blood sugar and reduces inflammation. Together, these effects can mitigate the risk of heart attack and stroke.  

5. A Natural Way to Improve Your Mood

Lastly, and perhaps the most beneficial effect of cacao, is the ability to improve your mood. Cacao contains serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylethylamine, all chemicals that have been scientifically proven to boost your mood. Although a definite conclusion that cacao improves your mood cannot be made, there are a significant number of studies that show that eating more cacao improves overall well-being. According to the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, studies on  chocolate consumption and stress levels in pregnant women discovered that “more frequent intake of chocolate was associated with reduced stress and improved mood in babies”. Also, a study in senior men revealed that “eating chocolate was linked to improved overall health and better psychological well-being”.

Although thought to be a dessert, chocolate can have nutritional benefits when consumed as raw cacao. Some ways to eat raw cacao are to blend it into a smoothie, use it for hot chocolate or chocolate milk, make cacao brownies, sprinkle it on yogurt or fruit, or just simply eat squares of raw cacao. It may be an adjustment at first, but this transition is a simple way to incorporate more beneficial ingredients into your diet.

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