Cacao beans are the seeds of the cacao tree (or Theobroma), which are grown, for example in Mexico and several other South American countries. Cacao beans are then processed and heated to make cocoa, which is used in conventional chocolate bars. In its raw, unprocessed form however, cacao retains many more of its potent, beneficial nutrients. A favourite food of the Aztecs and the Mayans, the cacao tree has been regarded throughout history as health giving, and even sacred. Its scientific name ‘Theobrama Cacao’ literally translates as ‘food of the gods’! With such a compelling meaning, what else to do than read on for our Top 5 Health Benefits of Cacao!
1. Great source of magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body. The high magnesium content in cacao means that this is a beneficial food to help combat fatigue, enhance muscle function and strengthen your immune system.
2. Protects your heart
Cacao contains high levels of flavonoids, a phytonutrient that contributes to heart health. The flavonoids in cacao have been shown to lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. One study has suggested this is because flavonoids encourage the body to make more nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessels. Cacao actually contains more of these flavonoids than red wine, green tea or blueberries!
3. Mood booster
The natural chemical brain compound, phenethylamine (or PEA) is found in cacao. PEA can counter depression and anxiety, elevate mood and enhance concentration. Cacao also stimulates endorphin secretion, which are hormones produced in the brain that promote a general sense of integration and wellbeing.
4. Skin health
The high magnesium content of cacao promotes cellular healing, blood flow to the skin, and skin hydration. Being a rich source of antioxidants also means that cacao protects the skin from the aging effects of free radicals, and can reduce wrinkle formation.
5. Rich in fibre
Cacao is surprisingly high in dietary fibre, and therefore aids in stimulating digestion. In one serving of cacao nibs, there are typically 9 grams of fibre. The consumption of fibre-rich cacao has been shown to encourage better bowel function, prevent constipation, control blood sugar levels, and keep you feeling satisfied between meals.
Although some of these health benefits can be obtained from cocoa, they are best gained more directly from the purest form of the bean, which is cacao. So sprinkle cacao nibs on your porridge, or add cacao powder to your smoothies for a chocolatey fusion of heart healthy goodness! Have a love affair with cacao? Tell us about it below or share your recipes @ keepfitkingdom !