There may be nothing better in life than learning that cacao and cacao powder have health benefits. Are we saying that chocolate has health benefits? In a roundabout way, yes, but you first need to understand the difference between cacao, cocoa, and chocolate.
What is Cacao?
All chocolate is cacao, but not all cacao are chocolate. Cacao, cocoa, and chocolate are all different from one another, and each has its own respective properties and characteristics.
Cacao is found in Central America, South America, Eastern Africa, and parts of Indonesia.
Cacao is the raw, unroasted, and unprocessed seeds used to produce cocoa and, ultimately, chocolate. Cacao seeds have virtually no similarity to chocolate. The seeds are green or light brown in color, and they taste nothing like chocolate.
Generally speaking, you likely wouldn’t know that chocolate was made from cacao if no one told you; that’s how significantly different cacao is from chocolate.
What is Cacao, and How is it Different from Cocoa?
Cacao is the raw cacao seed that has been fermented, dried, and ground into a powder. Cacao has not been roasted and is in its most original and raw form, aside from the short fermentation and drying process it undergoes after being harvested.
Because cacao has not been roasted, it does not have much of a chocolate flavor. However, cacao can be added to various foods and drinks to add an unsweetened flavor to the dish or drink you are making.
Cacao seeds are often roasted after undergoing the fermentation and drying process. Unless the processor needs to keep a portion of the cacao harvest to make cacao, the entire harvest is usually roasted to create cocoa.
Cocoa is created by roasting the fermented and dried cacao seed. Roasting the cacao seed is what gives cocoa its chocolate flavor. The chocolate is not sweet at this point, as it has not been mixed with added sugar or milk, but it does contain a more distinctive chocolate flavor.
It is important to understand that cacao and cocoa are not the same. If you follow a recipe that calls for cocoa powder, you will need to make sure you use cocoa powder and not cacao, as the flavor of what you are making will not come out the correct way when you use a cacao product.
Cacao and Cacao Powder Health Benefits
- There are many cacao powder health benefits in various dishes and drinks. These cacao powder benefits can improve a variety of areas in the body, including digestion, blood pressure, and inflammation.
Cacao and the Digestive System
Adding cacao to your diet can help the digestive system by relieving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), reducing the effects of constipation, and alleviating the symptoms of diarrhea. Cacao contains a considerable amount of fiber in each serving.
Fiber helps the digestive system by keeping your colon clean, clear, and healthy. You can easily reach your daily serving of fiber by adding cacao powder to a protein shake or sprinkling it onto some sweetened fruit.
Cacao and the Cardiovascular System
In addition to fiber, cacao also contains flavonoids. Flavonoids have various health benefits, including the ability to lower blood pressure and increase the blood flow to the major organs within the body, including the brain and the heart. Adding flavonoids to your diet also lowers the risk of developing blood clots.
Along with flavonoids, cacao powder also contains a high amount of potassium. Potassium helps the cardiovascular system by decreasing heart disease risk, congestive heart failure, and the overall stress on the heart and blood cells.
Helps Prevent Strokes and Heart Attacks
Other cardiovascular areas that cacao powder can help improve include reducing the risk of strokes, heart attacks and lowering cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is classified as LDL or HDL cholesterol. An easy way to distinguish the difference between LDL and HDL cholesterol is to think of the “L” in LDL as meaning “lousy.” LDL cholesterol is considered the bad cholesterol, and it is the cholesterol number you want to always try to lower.
HDL cholesterol is considered the “happy” cholesterol, which means that it could and should be higher than the LDL cholesterol level.
Cacao and the Immune, Endocrine, and Nervous Systems
Cacao powder is highly beneficial to the immune and nervous systems. The flavonoids in the cacao powder help the immune system by giving it a boost as needed. If you feel under the weather, adding cacao powder to a drink or snack can give your immune system the boost it needs to fight off sickness. (Who says that chocolate isn’t medicine?)
Another way that cacao powder can improve the immune system is by reducing inflammation. Inflammation occurs when your body believes it needs to fight off an invader, such as a virus or bacteria; however, inflammation can also occur when your body is attempting to repair itself from damage.
Inflammation is often associated with various auto-immune disorders, such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Multiple Sclerosis. Inflammation can be painful when dealing with any of these auto-immune disorders. Adding cacao powder to your diet can help alleviate the inflammation and help you feel better overall.
Helps Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Cacao powder helps the endocrine system by regulating insulin and increasing your body’s ability to respond to insulin. This significantly reduces the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, as failing to respond or produce insulin is how Type 2 diabetes begins.
Can Help Manage Anxiety and Depression
When it comes to the nervous system, cacao powder plays an active role here as well. Anxiety and depression can be caused by various reasons within the nervous system, one of which being the imbalance of the brain chemicals known as tryptophan and serotonin.
Adding cacao powder to your diet can increase the brain stimulation to these chemicals to help manage anxiety and depression.
It’s important to understand that you may need to incorporate additional regulation methods and speak with your doctor or healthcare professional for more detailed information when you have a chemical imbalance within the brain.
How to Add Cacao Powder to Your Diet
Before you go sprinkling cacao powder in your drinks and on your food, there are some specific ways you can enjoy cacao powder, and we are going to include them here.
To learn more about cacao while also watching a video below on the best cacao recipes for adding cacao to your diet, you should watch the YouTube video posted by Lauren Vacula. She explains the many health benefits of adding cacao to your diet and provides delicious recipes for the best ways to enjoy cacao.
Sprinkle Cacao in Protein Shakes or Milk
One of the quickest, easiest, and tastiest ways to enjoy cacao is by drinking it. To do this, you will sprinkle your serving of cacao directly into the drink you are making. Whether it’s a protein shake, a milkshake, or just a cup of hot (or cold) cacao, drinking your serving of cacao is always a quick and easy way to get your daily serving of cacao. (Plus, it gives you an excuse to make a milkshake!)
Sprinkle Cacao Onto Fresh Fruits
If you prefer to eat your serving of cacao (and who can blame you?), then we suggest sprinkling the cacao powder over freshly cut fruit. The best fruits to enjoy cacao powder include fresh cut strawberries, pineapple, and bananas.
Sprinkle Cacao into Cottage Cheese or Greek Yogurt
Cacao powder mixed with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt will likely be hidden by the taste of the cheese or yogurt itself. Adding fruits or other flavorings will only mask the cacao power flavor even more. So, if you prefer to get your serving of cacao powder through a fuller snack, we suggest sprinkling it into cottage cheese or Greek yogurt and adding additional flavorings of fruit or cinnamon.
Cacao powder is chocolate, but not in the sense that you would expect. In fact, your senses may not even realize it’s chocolate through smelling and tasting it. This is because the cacao seed has only been fermented and dried. When the seed is roasted, the cacao seed turns into the cocoa bean, which is the beginning stage of the chocolate we know and love today.
Adding cacao powder to your daily routine will help many areas in the body, including the cardiovascular system, immune system, and digestive system.
So, what way are you considering enjoying raw cacao powder? Let us know in the comments below! And if you have any questions, please include them in the comments as well!