Whether it’s Easter or just an ordinary weeknight, cacao can boost our mood and our health, too.
We often don’t think of chocolate as something that’s good for us. It’s an indulgence, a ‘naughty treat’, and often laden with refined sugars and fats. But cacao – the raw ingredient found in quality chocolate or sold as powder, nibs or ‘buttons’, actually has a number of benefits for our health.
Is cacao the same as cocoa?
Cocoa and cacao are often confused, but they start life in the same way: as harvested from beans from the cacao tree’s seed pods. The differences occur during harvesting when cacao is cold pressed into raw cacao powder (therefore retaining more of its beneficial properties), while cocoa powder comes from roasting raw cacao at high temperatures, giving a much sweeter effect. Cocoa powder, as found in many supermarkets, usually contains high levels of added sugars.
The basic premise is that the more cacao in your chocolate, the more nutrients and antioxidants there are. So, raw cacao has much higher nutritional values than cocoa, and this is one of the major differences.
What are the health benefits of cacao?
More Antioxidants than Blueberries
When it comes to superfoods we all know the major pros of blueberries, but it might surprise you that raw cacao actually has forty times more antioxidants. Antioxidants prohibit and sometimes prevent the oxidation of molecules in your body. They remove potentially health-risky oxidising agents, and in doing so, provide you with a plethora of benefits, such as healthy skin, by cleaning up all the waste from your cells before they can cause any damage.1
These waste products are called ‘free radicals’. Cacao has an ORAC score of 98,000 per 100g, while blueberries have 2,400. An ORAC score measures antioxidants’ ability to absorb free radicals. The high antioxidant content can help to increase cellular life and prevent premature aging.1
Great Source of Magnesium
Raw cacao is an amazing source of magnesium, which is essential for energy production as well as the functioning of your brain and nervous system. It also supports your muscles, strong bones, teeth and healthy blood pressure.2
Magnesium helps to turn glucose into energy for your brain to focus – that’s why if you’re studying, working or exercising at the end of a long day, you might consider reaching for something that contains raw cacao.2
Highest Source of Plant-Based Iron
Iron can be harder to come by for vegans, but cacao could be the answer you’re looking for. Cacao is, in fact, the highest plant-based source of iron, featuring 7.3mg per 100g1. If you thought you were missing out on iron by not being carnivorous, think again: beef and lamb feature only 2.5mg of iron per 100mg. Because the iron in cacao is non-heme, you’ll benefit most from it by consuming it alongside some vitamin C.1
Good for Those Mood
Cacao is also proven to help with depression, boosting the ‘happy brain’ chemicals of serotonin, tyrosine, tryptophan and phenylethylamine, which are neurotransmitters that are linked with feeling good and happy. Cases of low mood are often linked to a deficiency of these chemicals.3
More Calcium than Cow’s Milk
Cacao is a great source of calcium, which is good for your teeth and bones, among many other things. In fact, it has more calcium than cow’s milk, with a whopping 160mg per 100g while milk has 125mg per 100ml.3