Cacao is derived from the Theobroma Cacao tree. It’s important to distinguish cacao from typical cocoa. Cocoa is heavily processed and roasted, which destroys the majority of the antioxidants and other components that make cacao a superfood. One study found that up to 90 percent of antioxidants are destroyed when cocoa powder is processed. In addition, when possible you should buy organic cacao to avoid any pesticides and GMO cacao crops.
Cacao is a controversial crop as it is estimated that over 70 percent of the world’s cacao is grown and harvested by indigenous people who are paid an inhumanely low wage. In some cases, child labor is utilized as well. This is why you will often see cacao labeled as “fair-trade”. It’s important to seek this label out when purchasing cacao to ensure it comes from a reputable and fair source.
One of the main health benefits of cacao is its abundance of antioxidants. In fact, raw cacao has over 40 times as many antioxidants as blueberries. Cacao’s ORAC score is a whopping 98,000 per 100g versus blueberries which are at just 2,400. ORAC measures the food’s ability to neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals can cause cell and tissue damage and lead to cancer.
Another amazing attribute of cacao is it is incredibly high in iron. Cacao is actually the highest plant-based source of iron. Just 100g has over 7mg which is almost 40 percent of the recommended daily value. The iron found in cacao is classified as non-heme, meaning to absorb the most as possible you’ll need to combine it with Vitamin C. So if you eat cacao, follow it with a glass of orange juice or half a grapefruit.
Cacao is also one of the highest plant-based sources of magnesium. Magnesium is essential in maintaining cardiovascular health and it helps promote better brain function as well. Magnesium helps to turn glucose into energy which is what encourages your brain to work faster and with more focus.
One little known fact about cacao is that it has more calcium than cow’s milk. Just one 100g serving has 160mg versus 100ml of milk which has 125mg. So next time you catch yourself reaching for a glass of potentially harmful cow’s milk, consider opting for raw cacao instead.
In addition, raw cacao is a natural mood elevator and anti-depressant. Cacao is a wonderful source for four ‘happy’ neurotransmitters. These chemicals are serotonin, dopamine, anandamide and phenylethylamine. These is why you may feel your mood shift after eating a bar of dark, organic chocolate.
You may be wondering how exactly to use raw cacao. Thankfully, there are several easy ways to incorporate this superfood into your diet. Cacao typically comes in three forms. You can buy pure raw cacao powder and mix this into a smoothie or even pancake mix. You can also find cacao nibs that make a great snack by themselves. Also try adding the nibs and powder to brownie mixes. There are countless recipes utilizing raw cacao. You can also often find pure, 100 percent cacao, dark chocolate. Remember to look for the organic, non-GMO and fair-trade labels before you purchase.