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Health Benefits of Cacao

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RDJuly 15, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

I had a super-nerdy weekend at the New York Botanical Gardens — I was so excited to finally check out their Wild Medicine exhibit. Many of my favorite herbs and spices and fruits were among their featured medicines: turmeric, nutmeg, lavender, lemons and limes, grapefruit…. And best of all, the cocoa bean, aka cacao. Any place handing out chocolate samples and telling me it’s medicine is alright with me.

Right after I left my friend happened to ask, “What’s the deal with that chocao stuff?”. (Cacao is like acai, no one knows how to pronounce it – in this case it’s “ka-cow”;).

Cacao is the raw form of dark chocolate, and it’s what everyone is talking about when studies show that chocolate is good for you. Cacao nibs are the raw, dehydrated and crushed cocoa bean, prior to adding sugar and milk to make it delicious. Truth be told, raw cacao is a little bit bitter and almost disappointingly tasteless. But it truly is so good for you: it’s loaded with heart healthy antioxidants that prevent disease and lower cholesterol. A compound called theobromine gives caffeination without the jitters. And cacao is also a fantastic source of magnesium which seems to help with PMS symptoms. So yes, ladies, you’re welcome and encouraged to reach for raw chocolate around that time of the month.

But put down the candy bar — the benefits of cacao don’t make it through the processing and sugar and milk and flavor-adding at the Mars or Hershey factory – it’s the equivalent of turning whole grain bread into white bread. Instead you want to look for chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or higher for optimal nutrition benefits

My favorite ways to incorporate cacao:

  • Add a ½ tbsp. of raw cacao powder (love Organic Traditions) to Greek yogurt and smoothies.
  • Get some crunch by adding raw cacao nibs (love Theo Chocolate’s) + peanut or almond butter on an apple, or sprinkle on other desserts.
  • Have a few squares of 70% dark chocolate or a handful of Sweet Riot dark chocolate nibs.

So, do you cacao? Have you tried raw chocolate? What’s your favorite type?

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