We are all familiar with the household favourite of cocoa, and still remember the excitement when you saw your Mum getting that aromatic brown powder from the baking cupboard, because you knew a chocolate cake would soon be in sight. Well if you haven’t yet been acquainted, let me introduce you to cocoa’s purer and friendlier sibling – cacao.
Both cocoa and cacao originate from raw cacao beans; the main point of difference between the two is that cocoa is processed at much higher temperatures than cacao, which results in a significant loss of the powerful and plentiful nutrients it holds. Being processed at lower temperatures, cacao retains all of the goodness it has to offer, making it one of the best additions to your life thus far (don’t know if you can tell how much I love cacao).
One. Cacao is incredible for mental health issues
Other than the feel-good that comes with the fact that you’re basically eating chocolate, this superfood is actually very beneficial for regulating the neurotransmitters (your brain’s chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin etc.) that dictate your mood.
Cacao particularly works to boost serotonin levels, through the presence of Anandamide. Anandamide is commonly known as the ‘bliss molecule’ because it is released when we feel good; further, this nutrient increases the production of nerve cells which positively affects anxiety & depression, lowering their severity and symptoms! Cacao can also reduce levels of cortisol, which is our stress hormone.
Eating dark, rather than milk, chocolate is a great way of getting more cacao – or simply buy a bag of it and add it to your smoothies, yoghurt or baking!
Two. Cacao is FULL of antioxidants for fighting disease
If you’ve read our superfood blog post (click here), then you’ll have the heads up on this one. But did you know that cacao has 20 times more antioxidants than blueberries? Wow!
Antioxidants have the incredible ability to neutralise some of the free radicals and toxins that we eat and encounter in our day-to-day life; thereby, reducing the damaging effects they have and lowering the risk of both disease and aging. As we age, the body’s ability to fight free radicals decreases, meaning antioxidant-rich foods become increasingly important.
The antioxidant properties in cacao have been seen to assist with insulin sensitivity and resistance, which is extremely good news for those who do battle with these.
Three. Cacao can aid in exercise recovery
As if cacao couldn’t get any better it decides to be at good at muscle recovery as well! Now, by no means is cacao as effective for muscle recovery than consuming all 9 essential amino acids (building blocks of protein), so it definitely shouldn’t be relied on as your only option of muscle recovery, but it does contain 1 amino acid called arginine.
Arginine is very good at lowering blood pressure and assisting in muscle recovery and overall heart health!
Four. Cacao is a great source of iron
Lastly, for vegans, vegetarians, or just those who need a little more iron in their life – cacao is your pal! A great source of plant-based iron (and calcium for that matter) cacao can be consumed daily to ensure you are giving your body what it needs. Try not to overdo it though – aim for 40-50g which is about 4-5 heaped teaspoons.
Iron needs the help of vitamin C to be absorbed properly, so couple it with some berries or citrus fruits to get the most out of it! Making a smoothie, or adding berries, cacao and chia seeds to your greek yoghurt are all excellent ways of incorporating and maximising this versatile product.
*Pregnant woman should be careful not to consume too much cacao, as it does contain trace amounts of caffeine*