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The Incredible Health Benefits of Cacao

Just by the title of this article, some of you may already be running out to stock up on chocolate. But before you do, slow down and read the details! There is a lot to learn before diving into any old chocolate bar. Because, the reality is that sadly, not all chocolate is created equal. And as it turns out, there are actually considerable differences between chocolate, cocoa, and cacao. Let’s go through the information and details for each one so that we can be sure that we are consuming this super food in its healthiest format. 

First, let’s talk about pronunciation -because if you can’t say it correctly, you will probably end up asking for the wrong item when shopping! 

  • Cacao -is pronounced “ka-kao”
  • Cocoa -is pronounced “ko-ko”
  • And chocolate…well, we’ve probably all had that one down pat since toddlerhood! 

Now that we know how to say it let’s learn what the differences are between them. 

Cocoa and chocolate are the products that are derived from the cacao bean. So, we must start at the very beginning- on the tree. It is believed that it was the Mayans of Central America that first used the cacao bean to make cocoa and chocolate. This hypothesis may very well be correct as even today, cacao beans grow on trees of Central and South America. So, when and how exactly did chocolate take over the world’s dessert plates? Well, the beans were introduced to Europe during the 16th century by Spanish conquerors. Cocoa powder, as it was sold at the time, was made popular as a health-boosting medicine. Although they had the right idea back then, they were not using the product correctly. 

Today, cacao is known as a super food with incredible health benefits; however, this is only true if you are using the beans in their original format. As soon as they are processed into cocoa powder and eventually chocolate, all the health benefits are lost, and you are left with a ton of sugar and unhealthy fats. It is the raw and organic beans that have all the superpowers! 

Therefore, the first thing to do is to hold off on crushing and processing the beans. Keeping them in their original state is the starting point for using cacao to the best of its abilities and taking advantage of the super food health benefits it provides. 

The next step is to understand how to consume cacao properly. If they can’t be crushed and processed, then how do we prepare them? The answer is that to retain their super food properties, cacao beans must be consumed raw or minimally processed, such as fermented, roasted, shelled, and then ground. If the raw cacao beans are appropriately prepared, they have many super food abilities. 

All parts of the cacao bean can be consumed. The interior flesh and the beans can be eaten raw. The flesh has a slightly citrus taste when it is unripe. When ripe, the beans are sweet and delicious. The raw cacao beans are similar to a soft nut and taste of very dark chocolate. 

As mentioned above, it is known for its incredible super food abilities.

Listed below are just a few of those health benefits: 


Cacao is actually chock full of calcium, in fact, way more so than in cow’s milk. This is an excellent alternative for those who are lactose intolerant, vegans, or on a dairy-free diet. 

Antioxidant Effects

Cacao beans are filled with antioxidants that protect the cells from free radical damage. Free radicals are absorbed through the environment and lifestyle choices. They are known to cause oxidative stress on the body, which in turn shows up as premature aging that is visible in skin conditions and well as disease. 

Lifts Mild Depression and Improves Cognitive Performance

Anyone who has enjoyed chocolate knows the power it has to put you in a better mood. However, when consuming chocolate, you are also getting a sugar high, which will cause an inevitable crash as well as consuming a lot of fat and unhealthy by-products. With cacao, you get the feel-good mood boosters, and it preserves and improves cognitive abilities without the crash. 

Lowers Blood Pressure

Ingesting cacao in the raw and organic format has been proven to reduce blood pressure and even increase the flexibility of the blood vessels. This is important at all ages, but especially so as the human body continues to age. 

Aids in Managing Diabetic Symptoms

Cacao has been proven to regulate insulin levels by activating proteins and helping to regulate glucose production. This is beneficial for everyone but even more so for diabetics. 

Manages Heart Health

Researchers have found that the properties of cacao increase the antioxidant capacity in the blood, which results in healthier hearts and arteries. 

Rich in Nutrients

Cacao beans are incredibly rich in nutrients such as magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper, and manganese. As well, these magically little beans are thought to be the most abundant source of magnesium in the world. Consuming so many nutrients that are known to aid the body to perform at optimal levels. And so, here is yet another reason why cacao beans have so many health benefits. 

As previously mentioned, it is the cacao bean that holds all these super food abilities and not the more commonly processed cocoa. However, as the name is so similar, it can be easy to be confused. Here are some differences to look out for when you are purchasing. 

The Difference Between Healthy CACAO and Unhealthy COCOA 

First of all, cocoa is most often the cheaper product. It is also easier to locate and can be found in the baking section of most grocery stores. If you read the ingredients, you will most often find that there are added sugars, dairy products, artificial sweeteners, fillers, and the dreaded high fructose corn syrup in cocoa. 

Cacao, on the other hand, is best located at a health food store. It should have words like raw and organic on its packaging and never have a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. 

So now that you know how to spot the difference let’s learn how to incorporate cacao, this incredible super food into your diet! If this is the first time that you will be trying cacao, then you will want to prepare yourself for the taste. It definitely has a bitter taste as compared to cocoa and chocolate. It is similar to dark chocolate, which tends to be an acquired taste. So start with small amounts and work your way up so that your taste buds can adjust along the way. 

Here are five great ways to benefit from the incredible super food powers that cacao provides! 

  • Smoothies

    Cacao makes a delicious and nutritious chocolate flavoured smoothie. Simply add one or two tablespoons of raw cacao powder into your smoothie mix. Even cacao nibs can add a sweet crunchy and textured topping! 

    • Baked Treats

      Cacao powder is a great option when wanting a chocolate flavoured muffin cake, cookie, or pudding. It is particularly well paired in a zucchini bread to make chocolate zucchini bread -a favourite paleo treat! 

      • Raw Brownies

        If you are a vegan or follow a paleo or gluten-free lifestyle, then brownies free of dairy, sugar, wheat, and gluten are a staple of your dessert menu. A few scoops of raw cacao powder are easily added to these no-bake recipes. To counteract the bitterness, you can add dates, honey, crushed pecans, or coconut for sweetness. 

        • “Chocolate” Milk and Hot “Chocolate”

          It’s important to note here that this recipe option will have neither chocolate nor cow’s milk in it! Cow’s milk has been proven to lessen the effect of the raw cacao. So almond milk is a better alternative. Simply add a tablespoon of cacao powder to your almond milk and mix. One or two tablespoons of organic sweetener is optional. To make this drink cold, you will need to let the cacao powder and sweetener dissolve first in hot almond milk then add cold milk and ice cubes afterward. 

          • Snack Bars

            This is another easy and healthy way to consume cacao. With only three or four ingredients; cacao powder, nibs, cashews, and dates, for example, you can easily roll out several snack bars that can be kept and consumed at a later date. 

            • Mexican Sauce for Savory Dishes

              A different way to add cacao to a meal is in a traditional Mexican chocolate sauce. Typically, these recipes call for dark chocolate with a high cacao percentage, cayenne pepper for a little kick, cumin, paprika, onions, garlic, cloves, and ketchup. This sauce is a delicious poured over chicken. 

              Can Cacao be Part of a Keto Lifestyle? 

              When partaking in a paleo, keto, or other low carb-high fat eating plan, the question of sweets is often raised. Is it still possible to have a few sweet delights while ensuring that your health stays on track? Fortunately, thanks to cacao, you can! 

              While on a keto or keto-friendly diet, you can consume cacao either with the raw powder or nibs. The recipes we have outlined in the list above, all work well. But did you know that it may even be enjoyed in actual chocolate format? 

              Dark chocolate is permitted on a keto eating plan; however, it is essential to calculate the percentage of raw cacao in the chocolate before consuming it. At a minimum, the percentage of cacao solids should be seventy or more. However, a basic rule of thumb is the closer the percentage of cacao to one hundred, the more keto-friendly it is. Basically, cacao in the raw and dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao is compatible with a keto diet. 

              No matter what eating plan you choose, there are times when you really just want to let loose. There’s a cacao solution to these moments too! When the mood strikes, you can even enjoy a milkshake! Check out this deliciously decadent milkshake over at Paleo Hacks

              Another way to use cacao as part of a keto-friendly diet is to pair it with other keto style foods such as almond butter. Together these two natural ingredients make amazing cookies! Want to understand better almond butter and how you can use it in your kitchen? Have a look at our blog post on Almond Butter and its Benefits

              Having outlined the health benefits of cacao, it is easy to see how this super food can and should be a part of any healthy living eating plan. Switching out sugar and unhealthy fat-filled chocolate for raw and organic cacao bean products is an easy and manageable lifestyle change. Your body will benefit from the super food antioxidant powers without sacrificing the flavours of something you love. So, head out to your local health food store today and pick yourself up some cacao!

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