One of the healthiest foods on the planet is a main ingredient in your not-so-healthy afternoon chocolate bar. So why are you settling for simply satisfying your sugar craving and cheating yourself out of health benefits like better mood, more energy, improved cardiovascular health, and stronger bones? It's time to make the switch from chocolate to cacao, stat.
Ounce for ounce, cacao–nope, we didn’t spell ‘cocoa’ wrong–is the number one source of antioxidants, magnesium, and iron on the planet. And not only is it a superhero for your health, but it also tastes incredible. Cacao is less processed than other forms of chocolate, but has that same craveably rich, lightly bitter, but oh-so-indulgent dark chocolate flavor. Simply put, cacao is chocolate in its purest, healthiest form.
Cacao beans are actually seeds that come from the Theobroma, a small evergreen tree native to Mexico and South America. Traditionally, the seeds are roasted and ground to make cacao powder, then mixed with milk solids and sugar to make chocolate. To taste the purest form of cacao, try cacao nibs, little bits of cacao beans that have been dried out and fermented.
We know that stress can lead to low-grade inflammation, a precursor for all kinds of nasty diseases from cancer and diabetes to depression. Thankfully, the antioxidants in cacao can prevent all of that. It’s nutritionally more potent and can impact mood by stimulating the brain to release neurotransmitters that trigger emotions like euphoria. Cacao also contains anandamide, a lipid known as the “bliss molecule”, which mimics the effects of THC in the brain (and helps stop breast cancer in its tracks).
Cacao is especially high in epicatechins and the flavonoid anthocyanidin, potent antioxidants that help destroy free radicals that can damage DNA, accelerate aging, and increase the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. The flavonoids even go so far as the help prevent brain ailments like Alzheimer’s and reduce the risk of heart disease. Cacao’s antioxidant activity and impact on health is even greater than tea or red wine.
Convinced yet? As if you need even more of a reason to start popping cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips, cacao has fewer calories, no added sugar, and more fiber—a third of your daily needs packed into one ounce—so you get all those mood boosting benefits without packing on pounds. Of course, then there's cacao powder and cacao butter, which are easy to fold into your favorite dessert recipes. Just remember that cacao is a little less sweet than regular chocolate, so supplement with a natural sweetener like agave or rice syrup. Need some drool-worthy inspiriation? Check out this homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread or these Paleo-friendly Kit Kat bars.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont