Gut Health Superfood - 4 Benefits of Cacao

Today's Article is for all Cacao lovers out there. In case you missed it, Cacao is one heck of a superfood. Not only is it used to make delicious chocolate, but it is also loaded with antioxidants, minerals, and even a good amount of fiber for digestive health. Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits of Cacao and what to look out for when purchasing this superfood. 

raw dark chocolate

1. Raw Cacao is the No. 1 Antioxidant-Rich Food in the World

Antioxidants naturally protect the body from free radicals, which are linked to aging and long-term diseases. With age, the body's ability to fight free radicals decreases, which is why it's important to support your system by consuming a diet that is abundant in antioxidant-rich foods. 

Common foods that are highlighted for providing antioxidant properties, include the following: Berries (Blueberries, Goji Berries & Açaí Berries in particular), Green Tea, Matcha, and Coffee. However, most people aren't aware that Raw Cacao Powder actually scores the highest on the antioxidant scale. 

In fact, Raw Cacao Powder has over 40 times the Antioxidants of Blueberries - Raw Cacao Powder has a ORAC value of 98,000 per 100g, vs. Blueberries at a mere 2,400. ORAC  (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is a method to measure the antioxidant capacity of different foods. See ORAC Score comparison below.  

However, keep in mind that in order to get the antioxidant properties from Cacao it has to be consumed in its raw, unprocessed form. Ideally, reach for either a Raw Organic Cacao Powder or Unsweetened Cacao Nibs.

raw cacao bean

2. Highest Plant-Source of Magnesium & Iron

Furthermore, Cacao is also a great source of key minerals, including magnesium and iron. While magnesium is more commonly found in plant-based food sources, iron is typically consumed from animal products, including red meats, poultry, fish and eggs. Depending on your dietary choices, vegetables and meat intake, you may be lacking one or even both of these minerals. 

Causes and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency:

  • Poor Diet Habits
  • Stress (Depletes Magnesium through Kidneys & Urine)
  • Certain Drugs (Caffeine, Alcohol, Antacids) 
  • Muscle Twitches and Cramps (Including Menstrual Cramps)
  • Fatigue and Headaches
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Insomnia, Irritability, Low Mood

Raw Cacao or Cocoa (the roasted version) may contain as much as 499mg of Magnesium per 100g, which is more than 130% of our recommended daily intake. So a 35g chocolate bar containing 90% cacao could provide up to 40% of our recommended intake. If you are not a big fan of vegetables, consider adding some Raw Cacao Powder to your diet. 

Causes and Symptoms of Iron Deficiency:

  • Not getting enough iron through your diet (Vegans/Vegetarians)
  • Blood Loss (Menstrual Periods, Blood Donation etc.)
  • Need for more Iron (eg. during Pregnancy, Breastfeeding)
  • Vigorous Exercise
  • Sore Muscles & Fatigue
  • Brittle Nails & Pale Skin
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Cold Hands and Feet
  • Chest Pain

If you are looking for a plant-based Iron source, consider Raw Cacao. Per 100g, Cacao contains 13.9mg. This compares to beef and lamb at 2.5 mg, and spinach at 3.6 mg. While you might not eat 100 grams of cacao in one sitting, it still makes it an admirable iron-boosting addition to your diet. Note the iron in cacao is non-heme (as is all plant-based iron), so to get the maximum benefits you’ll want to combine it with some Vitamin C. Think Oranges, Kiwi, Lemons, Grapefruit, Bell Peppers etc.

cacao nibs

3. Good Source of Fiber

Of course we cannot forget to mention the digestive benefits of Cacao when consumed daily. First of all, Cacao is a great source of fiber. When consumed in powder form, every  serving (2.5 Tbsp) yields 5g of fiber. Once ingested, these fibers remain undigested and passes through the digestive tract to the large intestine where probiotics use it as fuel to grow their populations and support our health. 

Research showed that volunteers who consumed a high-flavanol cocao for four weeks experienced significant increases in their gut populations of probiotics Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.

Hence, if you are lacking fiber in your diet and looking for new ways to reach your daily fiber goals, consider adding some delicious raw cacao to your morning smoothies, your oatmeal or even your baking recipes.

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4. Has Mood-Boosting Benefits

Last but not least, Raw Cacao has incredible Mood-Boosting Benefits. Cacao contains numerous active compounds and nutrients that stimulate the brain's production of neurotransmitters and neuro-modulators. This results in the release of feel-good hormones like Endorphins, Serotonin, and Dopamine, which are responsible for our improved mood after drinking or eating cacao. 

Mood Boosting Compounds in Cacao:

  • Tryptophan is an amino acid found in raw, unprocessed cacao, and assists our body in producing Serotonin, the neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation, social behaviour, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual function. 
    • Phenylethylamine (PEA), a chemical that increases dopamine secretion in our bodies. Dopamine, like serotonin, is a neurotransmitter with slightly different functions. Dopamine plays a significant role in the prevention of Parkinsons, feelings of pleasure and reward, attentiveness, memory, motivation, and sleep.
      • Theobromine gives cacao its mild stimulating quality. It is a vasodilator (widens blood vessels, therefore increases oxygen and decreases blood pressure), increases heart rate and brain function, acts as a mild diuretic, and decreases inflammation.

        In summary, consuming Cacao daily can drastically improve your mood and overall well-being. Again, it is important not to confuse Raw Cacao with Chocolate. While Raw Cacao in it's natural form provides all of the health benefits mentioned above, processed chocolate is really just that-processed. 

        Dark chocolate

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        About the author

        Chiara Ghanem