In discussing cacao (ka·cow), there is a distinction that should be made right off the bat.
Raw cacao is not the processed kind that is so common in commercial products. The kind of chocolate that you find in commercial candy bars and store products contains cocoa and a lot of sugar.
Cocoa is different from cacao, so understand that distinction because it is important. When you see all of those news stories that say you can eat chocolate because it is healthy, they are totally missing the mark. Cheap brands of chocolate replace the good qualities of cacao with milk, harmful fats, sugar and hydrogenated oils. Yes, it tastes good, but there is a cost.
Cacao is the unprocessed form of chocolate. The cacao beans are one of many super foods that are loaded with antioxidants that fight free radicals in the body.
Highlights of Nutritional Value of Cacao
The phytonutrients that provide the high amounts of antioxidants are a group of compounds called polyphenols or more specifically flavonoids. Cacao has more flavonoids than any known food.
Nutritional Value of Cacao
- Rich source of magnesium, one of the most important minerals for heart health
- Other essentials vitamins and minerals include calcium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, and manganese
- Loaded with flavonoids which are also found in healthy food like cranberries, apples, strawberries, tea and red wine
- High in all varieties of Vitamin B and Vitamin E
- High in Oleic acid which is the same heart healthy fat found in olive oil
Cacao Improves Blood Pressure and Heart Health
There are more than 4000 types of flavonoids in the plant word and they provided protection from environmental toxins. When humans consume flavonoids, they provide much the same protection value.
The class of flavanoids contained in cacao are called flavanols have been shown in studies to decrease blood pressure and insulin resistance. Circulation in the body has been shown to improve by promoting dilation of blood vessels, thus improving blood flow and reducing the likelihood of blood clots. When you lower the blood's clotting ability, you reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Flavanols in cacao also helps to synthesize nitric oxide in the body which is critical for healthy blood circulation and normal blood pressure.
Furthermore, the essential fatty acids contained in cacao may help raise good cholesterol and block LDL oxidation which helps to prevent the formation of plaque in the arteries.
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Cacao May Help Treat Depression
Theobromine, one of the vitamins contained in cacao has been shown in some studies to have an effect on people suffering from depression.
The theory is that it causes the brain to increase production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and anandamide. Anandamide is the chemical responsible for giving that euphoric feeling that many get after consuming chocolate.
Cacao Fights Cancer
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, flavonoid antioxidants such as those found in cacao might interfere with the development of cancer.
In one laboratory study published in 2002 "anthocyanidins from cacao were shown to reduce pancreatic and breast cancer in chemically induced laboratory animals". 
Researchers concluded that cacao might prevent cancer or improve the outcome when the disease is already present.
Cacao is high in antioxidants which are what our bodies use to fight free radicals. Free radicals are the harmful by products of our cellular activity and are primarily responsible for cell damage resulting in accelerated aging, inflammation in the body and an increase in everything from cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Ways to Get Raw Cacao Powder in Your Diet
Cacao powder is bitter when consumed alone so it goes great with just about any fruit including bananas, cherries and blueberries just to name a few.
- Blend a frozen banana, a scoop of plain Greek yogurt and 2 tsps. of cocoa powder in a blender until it is a creamy chocolate mixture. If you want it colder, add a couple of ice cubes.
- If you are trying to get away from sugar in your morning coffee, try a teaspoon in your coffee. Before you gag at the thought, cacao powder does not have the chocolate taste you are used to in a Hershey bar. I routinely add it to various liquids and in small quantities, you can’t tell it if there.
- Sprinkle powder over oatmeal, cereal or yogurt
- If you like a glass of chocolate milk at night before you go to bed, try mixing some cacao with unsweetened almond milk. You can use a shaker or blend quickly in a blender with some ice cubes for a chocolate shake.
- Add several teaspoons in with your favorite smoothie recipe. It goes great with anything and can aid in diluting the "green" taste.
How to Buy the Right Cacao Powder
- Try to buy organic whenever possible
- Buy the powder over the whole bean because it is easier to add to other foods. If you decided to buy the whole bean, consider a coffee grinder if you would like to grind it into a fine powder.
- Get the unsweetened cocoa powder because it is easier to mix with other foods
- Avoid anything packaged as "ground chocolate" because you won’t know what is in that
- If purchased the cacao whole beans, avoid roasted beans because that process strips them of their antioxidant properties
It is important to understand the difference between the healthy and unhealthy types of chocolate. Most of the commercial, store-bought chocolates are not the type you need in your diet.
The major players like Hershey have been marketing their dark chocolate varieties in recent year. Yes, they do contain some flavenols, however, they also fill it with a lot of sugar.
Real cacao is bitter. Really bitter. I can tell you first hand that a cacao bar of chocolate is not something you want to sit around eating as a snack. While you can consume it in some quantities by breaking up the whole cacao bean, I prefer the powder because it is much easier to mix with other foods.
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