Being that February is the month of love— or should I say month of chocolate— I wanted to emphasis the amazing health benefits of dark chocolate and more specifically cacao. Just like other herbs and spices such as turmeric and cinnamon, the cocoa bean— aka cacao (“ka-cow”)— offers so many powerful benefits. When you hear people say that chocolate is good for you, they are referring to cacao or the raw form of chocolate.
Cacao is literally crushed cocoa beans without the added sugar and milk to make it taste sweet. In its natural state, cacao is a bit bitter, but when you realize all the amazing benefits, you will learn to love the rich dark and smooth flavor. Cacao is loaded with tons of antioxidants that prevent disease and lower cholesterol. Antioxidants ward off free radicals in our cells and prevent cell damage so that your body can fight off disease. Antioxidants capture these nasty free radicals and eliminate them from our bodies, so you can see how important it is to consume these powerful nutrients.
So what are some of the benefits of cacao?
• It has more antioxidants than green tea, red wine and blueberries combined!
• It is the highest whole food source of magnesium! The high amount of magnesium regulates metabolism and helps with mental clarity. High levels of magnesium also help reduce symptoms of PMS.
• Raises endorphins and increases serotonin levels.
• Contains theobromine, which acts as a diuretic and helps flush out toxins.
• Contains phenylethylamine, which acts as a mood enhancer and actually can act as a natural anti-depressant.
• Contains 314 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron.
• Contains sulfur, which helps strengthen nails and promotes healthy hair and skin.
For optimal health benefits, pick up a bag of raw cacao nibs or powdered cacao and add it to your healthy diet. If cacao is too bitter, look for chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher for optimal nutritional benefits.
But remember— just because this powerful nutrient has so many health benefits, it still contains calories and fat, so the key is moderation. An ounce is all you need to gain the benefits and satisfy your sweet tooth.
One ounce organic raw cacao powder contains: Calories: 120; Calories from Fat: 23; Total Fat: 2.5g 4% Recommended daily value; Saturated Fat: 1.5g, 7%; Sodium: 20mg, 1%; Total Carbohydrates: 19.0g, 6%; Dietary Fiber: 7.0g, 28%; Protein: 5.0g; Vitamin A 0%; Vitamin C 0%; Calcium 4%; Iron 16%
My Favorite ways to add cacao to my diet:
• Eat cacao nibs by themselves. A small nib goes a long way!
• Add cacao powder to your protein smoothies.
• Add cacao powder in baking.
• Add cacao powder to protein muffins and pancakes.
• Mix a tsp of cacao with nut butter for a homemade “Nutella.”
• Add cacao nibs to homemade trail mix. I like to mix cacao nips with pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds and pecans!
• Add 1 tsp cacao to non at Greek yogurt for a chocolaty flavor.
You can also try my simple low-calorie Cacao Coconut Balls
2 cups brown rice puff cereal
1 cup unsweetened reduced fat shredded coconut + 2 tbsp for garnish
1/4 cup cacao powder
2 tbsp natural peanut butter
1 tbsp honey
4 oz unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
Gently mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well combined. Spoon mixture into lined muffin tray and top with shredded coconut. Place in the fridge to harden for at least 20 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
Fat: 6 grams
Sat Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Fiber: 2 grams
Sugar: 5 grams