Cacao powder is made from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, a native South American evergreen. These seeds, also known as cacao beans, are found in the large oval-shaped pods of the tree, and their use dates back to the Mayan civilisation, where cacao was both a food and a system of currency.
inimally processed and dried at low temperatures to ensure maximum nutritional value and taste, cacao powder is the purest and most natural form of chocolate. Although chocolate has a reputation as an indulgent and unhealthy treat, there are many health benefits of cacao powder.
With hundreds of compounds including vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytonutrients, the health benefits of cacao powder are so vast that it has superfood status. Here are some cacao health benefits that you might not know.
Cacao is a nutrient-dense superfood
Cacao powder is classified as a superfood because it provides many of the essential nutrients that your body requires to perform at its peak. It's an especially rich source of B-vitamins, which not only have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism, but they also help prevent infections and support the health of your cells.
Cacao is also a source of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that reduces free radical damage and slows the ageing process of your cells, as well as vitamin C, which is essential for collagen production, iron absorption, healthy immune function, wound healing, and maintaining strong teeth and bones.
There's also an impressive list of essential minerals found in cacao, including magnesium, calcium, sulphur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium and manganese. Let's take a look at how some of these minerals contribute to the health benefits of cacao powder.
Magnesium can also help relieve muscle tension and menstrual cramps
Cacao is a good source of magnesium
Every cell in our body requires magnesium to function, and it's necessary for calcium absorption, energy metabolism, protein synthesis, and healthy psychological function, as well as strong teeth and bones.
As cacao is one of the best sources of magnesium, it's easy to up your magnesium intake by using cacao powder as a delicious ingredient in healthy desserts and smoothies. Not only is eating magnesium-rich foods a natural way to increase your energy, calm your nerves, and improve your mood, but magnesium can also help relieve muscle tension and menstrual cramps.
Cacao contains manganese and iron for healthy blood
Manganese is another essential mineral that contributes to the health benefits of cacao powder, and it helps us metabolise amino acids, glucose, cholesterol and carbohydrates. It also supports normal blood clotting, bone formation, the oxygenation of blood, and the reduction of inflammation.
Cacao is also a source of iron, which is essential for immune system function, energy production, enzyme reactions, and healthy metabolic function. Iron deficiencies are very common, especially in young women, and the telltale symptoms include mental and physical exhaustion.
As iron produces both haemoglobin and myoglobin, it plays a vital role in forming and oxygenating your blood cells. Since we also need iron to convert food into energy and support our cognitive function, it's no wonder that people with an iron deficiency feel so tired! Cacao powder is such a fantastic superfood because it contains both iron and the vitamin C necessary for iron absorption.
Cacao is one of the world's best sources of antioxidants
With an extremely high ORAC score, cacao is considered a 'super-antioxidant', meaning it's especially effective in slowing the oxidative processes and free radical damage that can contribute to age-related degeneration. Not only does a high antioxidant diet help to protect the heart and prevent cellular damage, but antioxidant-rich foods also boost collagen production for radiant, healthy-looking skin.
Cacao's fibre content supports a healthy gut
Did you know that cacao contains both soluble and insoluble fibre, which together improve digestive function, gut health and bowel regularity? Not only does adding fibre-rich cacao to your meals stimulate your digestive enzymes and help you feel fuller for longer, but a fibre-rich diet and good gut health may assist with healthy weight management.
The flavonoids in cacao have also been shown to increase probiotic activity, while the polyphenols in cacao have prebiotic properties. In other words, the compounds in cacao feed and stimulate the healthy bacteria that live in your gut.
Cacao has a high electrolyte content that can help maintain a healthy balance of fluids in the body
Cacao is a rich source of electrolytes
Many of the automatic processes in the body rely on a small electrical current provided by electrolytes, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These and other minerals conduct electricity when dissolved in water, interacting with each other and with the cells in tissues, nerves, and muscles.
A good source of calcium, magnesium and potassium, cacao has a high electrolyte content that can help maintain a healthy balance of fluids in the body. Electrolytes are not only crucial for stable blood pressure, but they also support muscle recovery and neurological function.
As we lose these electrolytes through our sweat when we exercise, it's important to replace them with a post-workout snack or smoothie. Try this Choc PB oatmeal protein smoothie after your next workout!
Cacao contains oleic acid
Cacao contains a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid known as oleic acid. This healthy fat is needed for healthy cell membranes, but it's also a major source of energy for your cells, and is important for fighting pathogens, transporting minerals, and responding to hormones.
Cacao contains theobromine
Also found in tea leaves, theobromine is closely related to caffeine, but has a much milder impact on the central nervous system. Providing a sustained natural energy boost, this natural compound is unlikely to leave you feeling jittery like caffeine does.
In addition to supporting cognition, theobromine may also improve sleep quality, lower blood pressure, and enhances lung function. It also has tons of antioxidants, antibacterial properties, and is even considered by some to be an aphrodisiac.
Many of cacao’s natural compounds have been shown to enhance mood and create feelings of euphoria
Cacao has many natural 'feel good' compounds
The potent natural compounds found in cacao may have many positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, memory, and the immune system. There are also a large number of studies that examine the link between the bioactive compounds in cacao and our mental wellbeing.
Many of cacao’s natural compounds have been shown to enhance mood and create feelings of euphoria. Some of the 'feel-good' compounds in cacao include:
- Tryptophan: an amino acid and natural antidepressant that helps us produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that improves our mood, sleep, digestion, memory, and stress levels).
- Phenylethylamine (PEA): known as the 'love chemical', PEA is an adrenal chemical created by the brain and released when we are in love. It also stimulates the nervous system to release endorphins, improve mental acuity, and elevate mood, metabolism and memory.
The Mayan food of the gods
'Theo' meaning god and 'broma' meaning food, Theobroma cacao was considered the 'food of the gods' during Mayan times. Rich in essential nutrients and potent plant compounds, cacao certainly lives up to this title. Perhaps the best health benefit of cacao powder is the fact that it provides an easy, delicious and versatile way optimise your nutrient intake every day!