Cacao: The New Superfood on the Block

Cacao.  Yes – the word looks strange, but honestly – it’s not misspelled!  This article is about cacao, although we will touch upon how it’s related to cocoa.  Although many people say that cacao and cocoa have the same meaning, the words actually have different implications when used.
What is it?
Cacao (a before the o) is usually used to describe the raw, unprocessed bean picked from the cocoa tree.  Cocoa (o before the a) is usually used to describe the cocoa bean that has been heated and processed.  Cocoa beans are seeds of the Theobroma cacao plant, which is found in Mexico, South America and some parts of Central America.  Once picked, the cocoa bean is usually roasted, ground and processed.  The normal process involves adding cream and sugar to become the chocolate bar we love so much.
In ancient South American cultures, the cacao was so valuable that it was often used as currency, food and medicine. It is extremely nutrient dense and should be used in small amounts.
What are the benefits?
There have been plenty of studies that tell us how dark chocolate is good for us.  In reality, it’s the cacao that provides the benefits in the chocolate.  And when eaten raw and unprocessed, we actually get more benefit from the seed, as processing reduces some of the benefits. These include:
  • Essential vitamins such as C, A and E
  • Other nutrients including magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, and calcium.
  • A higher level of antioxidants, called flavonoids, than acai, blueberry, red wine or green tea
  • Stimulates the brain to release feel-good hormones
  • Anandamide – a compound that is often called the “bliss molecule”, which also makes us feel good.
  • Helps to lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (the good cholesterol)
  • Helps to lower blood pressure
  • Has been shown to have antibacterial properties against helicobacter pylori bacteria
  • Also shown to help the body fight allergic reactions
  • Preliminary studies show that cacao may have some anti-cancer benefits
  • Can help clear the airways and reduce congestion
  • Does contain caffeine, so it keeps you more alert
How to add cacao to your diet?
Raw cacao usually comes in two forms:  powder or nibs, which are small crushed pieces of the bean.  Eating a raw bean is often compared to chewing on a coffee bean – bitter and strong.  However, there are people that love to snack on the cacao nib by itself.  They state that although it may be an acquired taste, it’s a food they come to crave.
Most people do like to mix cacao powder with something else in order to reduce some of the bitterness.  A spoonful of powder can be added to smoothies, be used in chocolate chia pudding, sprinkled on fruit, mixed into granola or even mixed into coffee with a little honey and cream.
Cacao nibs can be mixed into trail mix, sprinkled on bananas, cereal or salads, baked into muffins, added as a topping for ice cream or yogurt, mixed into cookies, or simply nibbled raw.

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