Who knew there was more to chocolate than the sugar-pumped candy we see in stores today? In its raw, unprocessed form, cacao (chocolate) is packed full of nutrients which could improve your gut health, reduce the risk of heart disease, and even prevent anxiety.
Native to Mexico and Central America, the history of cacao can be traced back to the ancient mayans; who referred to it as ‘the food of the gods’, while the Aztecs considered cacao beans more valuable than gold. Mighty Aztec ruler Motemzumer II would drink gallons of cacao per day for energy and as an aphrodisiac, while reserving some to also fuel his military.
In the centuries that followed, we’ve been combining cacao, or ‘cocoa’ as the Europeans later named it, with refined sugar to make not-so-healthy mass-produced low quality chocolate in the form of candy bars and other sweet treats.
Thankfully, however, you can still purchase cacao in its natural state. Adding cacao (in the form of beans, nibs or pastes) to foods such as cereals, cakes or smoothies, can provide huge benefits to your health. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, just 3 tablespoons of cacao nibs (crushed cacao beans) contains 4 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, 7 grams of (healthy) fat, and 17 grams of carbohydrates. So, what can cacao do for you, exactly?
High antioxidants = A reduced risk of cancer
It’s common knowledge that blueberries are an excellent source of antioxidants. However, did you know that cacao has over 40 times the amount of antioxidants of blueberries?! It has an ORAC rate (the measurement of antioxidants) of 98,000 per 100g, vs the 2,400 per 100g of blueberries.
Cacao contains antioxidants such as epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidins. A 2020 lab study found that epicatechin can destroy breast cancer cells; while a separate 2016 study found that procyanidins is capable of killing ovarian cancer cells.
Supporting a healthy heart
Cacao is packed full of magnesium, a nutrient which is one of the hardest to find in a modern Western diet.
Magnesium is crucial for a healthy heart as it aids in maintaining a steady heartbeat and normal blood pressure. The combination of magnesium with the copper and potassium (also found in cacao) can further reduce the risk of hypertension and plaque buildup in your arteries.
What’s more, the antioxidants in cacao beans release nitric oxide, which helps to widen your blood vessels and decrease high blood pressure.
Good for your gut
Looking for a boost to your immune system? The polyphenals in cacao beans are capable of enhancing the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. What this means for you is an enhanced immune system, reducing the risk of you getting sick or catching various diseases.
In addition, the high fiber content of cacao stimulates the body’s digestive enzymes with the absorption of nutrients. This helps to improve your digestive system and aids gut & bowel health. The fiber is also responsible for helping you feel fuller for longer.
Lowers the risk of diabetes
Most sweet snacks are responsible for increasing your diabetes risk, but cacao (and some dark chocolate) can actually lower your chances of diabetes. Thanks (again) to those famous antioxidants, which promote the secretion of insulin and support the stabilization of blood sugar.
This being said, please always be careful with your consumption levels of chocolate products which contain a lot of refined sugar, which can lead to diabetes. It’s much safer to stick with cacao nibs or a bar of dark chocolate which contains a high percentage of cocoa.
Reduces anxiety & depression
In addition to the endless benefits to your physical health, cacao can also help significantly when it comes to your mental health. According to a 2019 study by UCL, eating cacao helps in reducing anxiety, increasing mood levels, and lessening symptoms of depression. As part of the study, in which 13,000 US adults took part, they found that people who ate dark chocolate within the previous 24 hours were 70% less likely to report feelings of depression.
If that’s not enough, cacao is also proven to improve your cognitive function - helping you to feel more awake and alert. This is due to cacao containing one of the richest sources of theobromine - a chemical that stimulates the nervous system - which can also reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease and keep the brain strong.
At Semilla, our cacao beans come from the Oaxacan mountains in Southern Mexico - the former home of the Aztecs. Check out our cacao products which range from cacao beans to nibs and paste here.