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The cacao bean is no stranger to the world. It is in almost every chocolate and coffee product on the global market. Cacao is responsible for the rich, chocolaty flavor that millions love in their beverages and sweet treats. Despite being popular, many hardly encounter cocoa in its raw form, except for exporting countries like South America, Africa and the Philippines. Pure cacao is filled with antioxidants and nutrients that can change your health for the better.
Types of Nutrients in Cacao
The first thing that comes to mind when mentioning cacao is antioxidants. The more cacao a product contains, the richer it is in antioxidants or flavonoids. Cacao also contains serotonine and theobromine. Its vitamin profile includes vitamins A, B, C and E. Cocoa also has large quantities of calcium, copper, iron, manganese, potassium and zinc. Although it contains caffeine, it is in smaller amounts.
Cacao and Disease Prevention
Research states that premature aging and some diseases are caused by free radical molecules. These molecules are destructive and often initiate disease in the body. One of the ways to contain their effect is to counter them with antioxidants. The good news is that cacao has plenty of them and can therefore help you avoid a variety of illnesses.
Cacao in its raw form is also a top provider of vitamin C and zinc, both of which are beneficial to your immune system. Because studies show that most people don’t include enough zinc in their diet, eating cocoa-based products can help tremendously.
Cacao and Mental Health
Cacao, especially in chocolate form, is known to release “feel-good” hormones. This is partly due a nutrient called serotonine. Serotonine has been scientifically associated with improved moods, especially in people with depression and premenstrual stress disorders. Another nutrient in cocoa that influences your mental state is caffeine, which can increase alertness, energy and physical stamina.
Cacao and the Heart
Cacao and chocolate-lovers will be glad to know that it is good for the heart. Not only does cocoa provide a boost of potassium, it also contains the iron and antioxidants to enhance cardiovascular function. Snacking on potassium-dense foods can manage and possibly treat hypertension and heart palpitations.
Cacao and Weight Loss
There is a misconception that cacao is fattening because it has a high amount of sugar. This is not necessarily true. Raw cacao beans actually have very little sugar and are moderately low in calories. It is when cacao is used to make products and added with sugars that it loses its nutrition. Milk chocolate, for instance, contains cocoa. However, it also contains saturated fats, sugar and preservatives that are not good for you.
Cacao and Bone Health
Studies show that communities that consume cocoa beans regularly have stronger teeth and bones than those who do not. This is because cacao is endowed with calcium, magnesium and manganese. Consuming enough calcium daily can prevent severe bone fractures, build up strength in weak bones and improve dental health.
Cooking with Cacao
Cacao beans are widely available and can be found at grocery or specialty stores. When shopping for cocoa-based products, avoid those with added sugars and fats. Aim for the highest percentage of pure cacao instead to reap the health benefits of this exotic bean. This brownies recipe makes use of dark cocoa powder. However, cacao powder can also be used.