Cacao powder is sourced from the seeds of the Cacao fruit that grows on the cacao tree, a plant native to the tropical regions of Central America, southern America, and West Africa. The Cacao fruit tree, also known as Theobroma cacao is an evergreen tree that produces a ripening yellow to orange fruit called Cacao pod which measures 18 cm long and 9 cm wide.
The Cacao fruit pod is made up of a hard nutshell that encloses the nutritious cacao seeds embedded in a white pulp. To produce the Cacao powder, the thin outer lining of the Cacao seed is first removed then separately roasted and milled to produce whitish chocolate liquor called Cacao butter. The remaining inner part of the seed is cold-pressed at low temperature to produce a dark powder that is jam-packed with nutritious supplements. The powder is Cacao powder.
Theobroma cacao trees are grown worldwide with a host of countries along the equator and within the Cacao belt cultivating the crop. The top world producers of Cacao are Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, and Ghana. Other countries that grow Cacao are Brazil, Madagascar, USA, Philippines, and Sri Lanka.
The cacao has been used by ancient cultures throughout centuries as a health supplement. For instance, the Mayans and the Aztecs communities used cacao to make a ritual beverage that was shared during the important occasions such as the marriage ceremonies and religious gatherings.
What makes cacao so special?
Most researchers focus on Cacao’s powerful content of flavonoids phytochemicals. It has a much higher content than tea and wine, two foods mostly touted for their high flavonoid content. Cacao is also a rich source of various nutrients that synergistically work with phytochemicals such as flavonoids.
Cacao is more than just a phytochemical powerhouse, it’s also a potent source of healthy fat, fiber and, minerals such as iron, magnesium, and copper.
Nutritional composition of Cacao powder according to USDA.
Calories – 120
Calories from fat – 23
Total fat – 2.5g (4% DV)
Saturated fat – 1.5g (7% DV)
Sodium – 20mg (1% DV)
Total Carbohydrates – 19.0g (6% DV)
Dietary fiber – 7.0g (28% DV)
Protein – 5g
Calcium – 4% DV
Iron – 16% DV
Fat: The Misunderstood Nutrient Present in Cacao
Fat sure can be so confusing. Remember when all the health recommendations advise on low-fat diet intake? Or even the nonfat diet trends? Saturated fats are not recommended at all due to their link with increased levels of LDL. However, not all the saturated fatty acids raise the levels of cholesterol. Stearic acid, the main predominant saturated fat present in cacao, is an exception! Current researchers prove that it is neutral on the LDL cholesterol and in some cases, it may lower it.
What is the difference between Cacao and Cocoa?
At first impression, you may think that Cacao and Cocoa are similar as they are extracted from the same tree and the same fruit, but you got it wrong because both products are two different things.
Cocoa is made by heating the cacao seeds at high temperatures and in the process enzymes responsible for nutrition benefits are reduced and thus the overall nutritional value of end product is lowered. On the other hand, the Cacao is formed through a cold-pressing process at low temperatures resulting in an end product with high nutritional composition.
Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Cacao Powder.
Cacao powder is an excellent source of nutrients and it contains a high amount of antioxidants, huge concentrations polyphenolic compounds, high levels of magnesium and high amount of fibers. Additionally, the cacao seeds are considered ‘ superfood ‘ due to the dense composition of essential nutrients and scientifically proven health benefits. Some of the health benefits of cacao powder have been proven while others are still under research.
We are going to give you an in-depth breakdown of scientifically proven health benefits of Cacao powder. Sit back and relax;
- Cacao powder as an antioxidant.
Antioxidants are compounds that help to revitalize the natural healing ability of our bodies by fighting off the damaging effects of oxidative stress. Organic raw cacao is an excellent source of antioxidants. Nutritionists say that the antioxidant concentration in cacao is 40X that of Blueberries.
Comparison of the antioxidant levels of Cacao powder and other superfoods.
- It has 4x the antioxidants of Goji berries.
- It has 80x the antioxidants of green tea.
- It has 40x antioxidants of blueberries.
According to data by US Department of Agriculture, a 100g serving of raw Cocoa powder has an ORAC value is 95, 500μ mol TE while the same serving of 100g Blueberries has an ORAC value of 2,400 μ mol TE. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) measures the ability of our body to absorb free radicals that we get exposed to. These radicals include the pollutants and cigarette smoke. The high amount of ORAC means a higher amount of the antioxidants and thus a high chance of cancer prevention caused by free radicals.
Raw cacao powder also contains the highest amount of Flavanols and Polyphenols antioxidant. Raw cocoa powder contains 30.1 mg of Flavanols per 1g, 3X more than any other superfood. Flavanols have numerous health benefits that which include improving the arteries elasticity and boosting the blood flow.
- Cacao for cardiovascular diseases.
The flavonoids in cacao have antioxidant properties which protect the cells and lipids involved in atherosclerosis development from oxidative damages and inflammations. The flavonoids promote the production of nitric oxide, which has a significant effect on vasodilation and vasoconstriction.
Cacao powder plays a significant role in reducing the inflammation caused by adhesions molecules. Adhesions molecules are proteins that cause the attachment of white blood cells and other substance to walls of heart arteries resulting atherosclerotic plaques that block the arteries and can result in a sudden rupture or heart attack.
According to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Cacao helps to increase the “good” HDL cholesterol levels and lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. High concentrations of LDL cholesterols levels are responsible for most of the heart diseases. Flavanols in cacao have a significant effect on the functions of the endothelium as it reduces oxidative stress as well as increase g production of nitric oxide. Good endothelial functioning widens the blood vessels thus reducing the occurrence of hypertension. A review study done in 2012 on twenty clinical trials on the relationship between cacao and blood pressure showed that there was a significant reduction in blood pressure in the participants who consumed cacao in comparison to those who didn’t consume cacao. Therefore, Cacao lowers blood pressure and risks of hypertension.
Furthermore, Cocoa contains more than 700 compounds and Polyphenols that altogether prevent the hardening of arteries. Cocoa prevents blood thickening by thinning the blood hence reducing the blood clot in veins and arteries. Thus eating raw cocoa is as beneficial as taking aspirin daily. The lowering of blood pressure and the effects on lipids of plain dark chocolates represents a real and cost-effective strategy for prevention of the cardiovascular diseases in persons with metabolic syndrome. However, chocolate needs to be dark and have at least 60 percent cocoa, or formulated and enriched with polyphenols.
- Cocoa as an Antidepressant
Cacao creates euphoria and enhances moods. It contains four neurotransmitters chemicals; serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylethylamine. These neurotransmitters help in promoting well-being, Cozy feelings and even elevate depression. Furthermore, the phenylethylamine neurochemical in Cacao has been found to create aphrodisiac effects and contentment feelings. The phenylethylamine or PEA triggers pleasurable opium-like neurochemicals that are often released during sexual activity. It is this reason that has made Chocolate a popular gift on Valentine’s Day.
According to a research published on the international scientific journal, Nutritional Neuroscience by French ETAP-Applied Ethology, two doses were tested behavioral animals and after two weeks the antidepressant-like effects were observed on the animals’ new behaviors as compared to the previous behavior before the test. The research concluded that “cacao is a promising alternative for the antidepressant agents.”
Majority of people find a good look at the beauty of the skin. Cacao helps to keep the skin healthy, natural and smooth. The high amount of antioxidants in the skin protects the body from free radicals such as UV light by preventing their penetration to skin tissues. Raw Cacao contains a high amount of vitamin C with One serving (28g) of the Cacao supplying our bodies with 21% of RDA of Vitamin C. The Vitamin C helps protect the skin and keep it healthy.
The omega 6 fatty acid in the cacao helps in cellular healing of the skin by increasing the rate of new skin regeneration. Cacao has also super absorbent properties that act as a sunscreen and prevent the Penetration of UV light to the skin. According to a research published in Journal of Nutrition by the Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf women between 18-65 years were recruited and given dry Cacao powder mixed with 100 grams of water daily and after 6 weeks of cocoa consumption, the women experienced 15 percent less skin reddening from UV light. The ability of the Cacao to increase the blood flow by reducing the constriction of arteries helps to keep the skin healthy. Like any other tissue in the body, a healthy skin requires good blood flow.
If you dream of shedding off the extra weight, then you should try the Cacao powder. Cacao contains MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors that are commonly found in the weight loss products. The MAO inhibitors work to suppress appetite thus reducing the overfeeding. Cacao contains about 7.0g of dietary fibers in a 28 grams serving. This high amount of the fibers contributes to about 28 % of our Daily Value (DV). Fibers increase the production of bodies’ digestive enzymes thus improving the digestion process. Additionally, when fibers dissolve in water, they become bulk and this helps you feel full for long reducing over-eating.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers investigated 3 types of Cacao extracts on 3 types of enzymes (phospholipase, alpha-amylase and pancreatic lipase,) that contribute to fat metabolism. The investigation found out that a Cacao extract can inhibit enzymes in vitro hence contributing to weight loss.
- Cacao for muscle growth and strength.
According to a research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Cocoa has been found to possess a molecule called (-)-epicatechin. The molecule has been found to exhibit some similar properties as Myostatin produced by the muscles. Myostatin is myokine that acts to suppress the muscle growth thus reducing the excess development of organs. When the Myostatin is suppressed, the growth of muscle increases. When the (-)-epicatechin molecule in cacao is ingested into the body, the production of Follistatin hormone is stimulated. This Follistatin hormone is a myokine hormone that promotes muscle growth by indirectly hindering myostatin signaling.
- Type 2 Diabetes, Insulin Resistance, and Cacao’s Antioxidants
A surprising and interesting research on cacao is its effects on diabetes. Diets rich in flavanols reverse the vascular dysfunctions in diabetes while highlighting the therapeutic potentials in any cardiovascular diseases. The benefit of cacao in the treatment and prevention of diabetes has been well established over the years. A number of factors explain the positive effects of cacao on diabetes. For instance like hypertension, diabetes is related to endothelium functioning. Hyperglycemia, a diabetes trademark causes damaging to the endothelial wall.
The flavonols in cacao increase production of nitric oxide, thus improving vasodilation and vasoconstriction. When the blood flows well the endothelium is less susceptible to diabetes damages. Additionally, the epicatechin, a type of flavonol, improve the sensitivity of the insulin and reduces the resistance of insulin, oxidative stress and inflammation in the fat and muscle cells.
Having gone through the numerous Health benefits of Cacao powder, it will be prudent you incorporate the raw cacao powder into your diet as you will get numerous nutrients in this one ‘ superfood ‘. Also, remember to avoid the cocoa powder as most important nutrients have been destroyed during the heating process. The raw unprocessed cacao powder is the best choice you should go for if you want to get the health benefits.