Top 5 Evidence-Based Cacao Health Benefits & Unique Nutrients
In case you needed another reason to fit more chocolaty goodness into your day… I’ve got 5 solid ones to share with you! The list of incredible cacao health benefits is long and impressive, so I’ve picked the top 5 cacao benefits for physical health, mental health, and healing our relationship with food.
Raw cacao is a bona fide superfood, complete with powerful phytonutrients, antioxidants, and unique plant-based compounds that are found in only a handful of other foods on the planet. With cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar balancing, brain boosting, and mood enhancing benefits, it’s worth making room for in our diet!
And of course, cacao is the precursor to many people’s favorite food: CHOCOLATE. Now, while chocolate does offer some of the superfood health benefits of cacao, it’s important to know that not all “chocolate,” “cocoa,” and “cacao” products are created equally. If you want to maximize the cacao benefits for your body, you’ve got to know what to look for.
By understanding the differences between cocoa and cacao powder, you can make the informed choice that’s right for you. And, I’ll be sharing my personal favorite source of the highest quality raw cacao: Earth Echo’s Cacao Bliss. It contains ceremonial grade cacao with a blend of other superfoods, it’s deliciously drinkable, great for baking—and I highly recommend!
If you’d like to give Cacao Bliss a try, use this link and the code “MUNCH” at checkout for 15% off!
What is Cacao?
Cacao can come in several forms—pods, beans, powder—but it all starts with the Theobroma cacao tree. These trees produce a pod-like fruit, which contains seeds inside that we call “cacao beans.” Generally, cacao beans are fermented and dried, and then undergo further processing depending on the specific product that’s being made
The word “Theobroma” actually means “food of the gods” in Greek—a reflection of the value and reverence for cacao among the indigenous peoples of Central and South America. In these regions over 3,000 years ago, cacao was used as a food, medicine, and even currency, and still today it’s served as a sacred drink for celebration, intelligence, and connection in some tribes.
Modern-day chocolates have come a long way from these traditional uses and preparations of cacao, but raw organic cacao is one of the best options available to us. This is one of the many reasons I love Cacao Bliss: it’s made with ceremonial grade cacao, which is the highest quality possible, and it’s prepared using the natural, ancient methods practiced by these indigenous tribes.
Cocoa vs. Cacao Benefits & Nutrients
Often, the terms “cocoa” and “cacao” are used interchangeably and inconsistently, so it’s important to read the labels and inform yourself of what’s really used in any products that you plan to buy. Generally, the term “cocoa” refers to a product that’s more processed and has been heated, whereas“cacao” describes products that are less processed and raw.
Roasting reduces bitterness and enhances sweetness in the beans, which gives products like cocoa powder, hot cocoa, or chocolates the sweeter, chocolatier flavor that we know and love. (Often, along with some added sugar.) But, the heat of roasting also destroys phytonutrients and antioxidants, meaning cocoa products don’t offer the same level of raw cacao benefits because the nutrient content is lower.
This is why raw cacao powder and cacao nibs are typically considered the healthier, more nutritious options. And in its raw form, cacao is one of the best sources of powerful polyphenols, flavanols, and antioxidants on the planet! Plus, it’s rich in fiber, nutritious fats, and essential minerals like magnesium and iron. So, to maximize the health benefits of cacao when you eat it, be sure to choose a high quality, organic, raw option.
Raw Cacao Health Benefits
Clearly cacao has a long history, and its sacred status has evolved into our modern-day love of chocolate. And now, there’s a wealth of scientific research supporting the powerful health benefits of cacao products, as well as some benefits to chocolate consumption more broadly.
The short version is this: research shows that cacao benefits our cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and reducing heart disease risk, it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, it can help balance blood sugar and reduce insulin sensitivity, it contains brain- and mood-boosting compounds, and it can help to curb cravings—among many other benefits!
But, as with all of the food we eat, quality matters. The most nutrient-dense cacao products will offer the most potent health benefits, which means our best options are a high quality, organic, raw cacao powder or cacao nibs—not your average cocoa powder or sweetened chocolate bar. So, as you read the research on cacao benefits below, keep this in mind! And again, my personal choice for high quality cacao is Earths Echo’s Cacao Bliss.
Reduce High Blood Pressure & Heart Disease Risk
Cacao benefits our cardiovascular health in many ways, thanks to its rich content of polyphenols and flavanols in particular. Polyphenols are a type of natural plant compound with powerful antioxidant properties—meaning they help prevent damage to our cells—as well as benefits for circulation and blood sugar control. Cacao is actually one of the best sources of polyphenols, with more antioxidant activity than even green tea, blueberries, or red wine!
Several studies have reported that flavanol-rich cocoa products can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, particularly in people who already have high blood pressure. Additionally, the flavanols in cacao can help reduce inflammation, lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, and even reduce the overall risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Again, to reap these heart health benefits, the best options are flavanol-rich products like raw cacao. But, I’m happy to report, several studies have also demonstrated significant benefits on cardiovascular function and blood pressure from eating flavanol-rich dark chocolate!
Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Effects
In recent years, the fields of science and medicine have recognized that chronic inflammation underlies just about every chronic disease—from heart disease to diabetes to cancer to depression. When the body stays in a low-grade inflammatory state for an extended period, disease can begin to develop. But anti-inflammatory foods can help, like cacao!
Research shows that the polyphenols and flavanols in cacao can lower markers of inflammation, contributing to their benefits on our cardiovascular and overall health. Also, these polyphenols support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria that activate anti-inflammatory pathways in the body.
The overall effect is reduced inflammation in the body, which associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases of all kinds. In fact, cacao’s anti-inflammatory effects are so powerful, researchers continue to investigate its possible uses as a treatment or preventative measure for a range of chronic diseases with an inflammatory component.
Improved Blood Sugar & Insulin Sensitivity
Alongside these anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits, cacao also has profound anti-diabetic benefits, again thanks to its flavonoid content. Existing research has demonstrated that cocoa flavonoids can help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, as well as slow down carbohydrate digestion.
In general, consuming dietary flavonoids is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. And if you’re looking for a particularly rich source of flavonoids, cacao is a great place to start! Keep in mind, the flavonoid content is highest in raw, unprocessed forms of cacao, and consuming even dark chocolate with added sugars may reduce the anti-diabetic benefits.
Enhanced Brain Function & Improved Mood
Some of the most intriguing and unique raw cacao benefits impact brain function and mood. First, remember that the polyphenols in cacao can improve blood flow, including blood flow to the brain. Not only have studies shown that cacao’s flavanols can improve cognitive function, but they may also reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and even promote the formation of new neurons.
Also, cacao is one of the few food sources of theobromine: an alkaloid compound and natural stimulant that’s like a less potent, less jittery cousin of caffeine. Research shows theobromine has numerous benefits on the brain, including enhanced cognitive function, improved focus and attention, and neuroprotective effects on the aging brain.
In terms of mood, chocolate consumption in general is associated with improvements in mood state, calmness, and even anti-depressive effects. Beyond the enjoyment of eating chocolate, these benefits are, in part, due to cacao’s content of polyphenols and tryptophan: an essential amino acid used to produce serotonin, a mood-stabilizing, feel-good neurotransmitter.
Most unique to cacao, however, is that it contains anandamide: a lipid compound known as “the bliss molecule” because of its pleasant, calming effects that produce a blissful state in the body. It’s thought that anandamide—combined with with cacao’s polyphenol, theobromine, and tryptophan content—is a major factor in why eating chocolate is so pleasurable.
Promotes Satiety and Curbs Cravings
Last but not least, the health benefits of cacao also extend to our relationship with food.Research demonstrates that cacao can improve feelings of satiety, helping us to feel fuller longer and maintain blood sugar balance. Cacao is rich in nutritious fats and fiber, both of which help to keep our hunger satisfied. And, in its raw form, cacaodoesn’t contain the added sugars found in chocolate, which can send our blood sugar and hunger out of balance.
On the most basic level, many people love the taste and flavor of chocolate. And its natural source—raw cacao—is a genuine superfood! By enjoying the chocolaty goodness that we love in its more natural, nutrient-dense form, we can satisfy sweet cravings while also offering our bodies cacao’s unique array of powerful nutrients.
Yes, standard chocolate bars and chocolate candies do offer some of the nutrients found in raw cacao, but much is lost during processing. Instead, raw cacao options like raw cacao powder and cacao nibs still contain the chocolate flavor you crave (maybe even more so), but with far more nutrients and less sugar. And for me, this is why I’ve turned to Cacao Bliss.
Cacao Bliss: Ceremonial Grade Cacao Benefits
To maximize the health benefits of cacao for our bodies and brains, it’s clear that less processed and more nutrient-dense options are the way to go. And for me, the very best option is Earth Echo’s Cacao Bliss, made with the purest cacao on the planet plus a blend of nine additional synergistic superfoods.
Research has shown that the most flavanol-rich products like raw cacao offer the greatest benefits, and Cacao Bliss is of even higher quality than raw cacao. Because it’s made with ceremonial grade cacao, it offers the richest nutrient content of all—meaning more antioxidizing and anti-inflammatory polyphenols, more brain-boosting theobromine, and more bliss-inducing anandamide.
Combined with additional superfoods like anti-inflammatory turmeric, energizing and satiating MCTs, prebiotic coconut nectar and more, Cacao Bliss supports immune health, increased energy, improved cognition, and curbed cravings. Plus, it’s sweetened naturally with monk fruit, which doesn’t affect blood sugar but still satisfies my sweetness cravings!
Besides its incredible high quality, most important to me is that Cacao Bliss is convenient. It comes in powder form, and it’s completely delicious simply stirred into any milk you like and enjoyed as a naturally sweet, nutritious chocolate milk! Or it’s perfect for smoothies, desserts, and even baked goods. Basically, you get all of the superfood cacao benefits (and then some) in a flavorful, chocolaty, versatile form.
Try Cacao Bliss and get 15% off by using this link and entering the code “MUNCH” at checkout!