Chocolate? Good for you? You’re probably wondering what the heck is going on. While we’re not talking about your traditional “Milk” Chocolate, Cacao, which is what is used to make chocolate, is one heck of a magical food. The cacao plant, also known as the cocoa tree, is a tropical tree that's native to Central and South America. Cacao, unlike traditional chocolate, is packed with antioxidants, minerals, and even some fiber to boot. While raw cacao beans are quite bitter, once processed, they develop that wonderful chocolatey flavor. From there, the beans can be made into products such as chocolate, cacao powder, and cacao nibs (this is our favorite). Be sure when shopping for chocolate to buy products with 70 percent or more cacao so you can reap all of the amazing benefits that we talk about below!
For a general idea of the nutritional profile of cacao, we’ve provided the nutrient profile for 3 tablespoons of cacao nibs:
4 grams protein
7 grams fat
17 grams carbohydrate
7 grams fiber
0 grams sugar
As you can see by the facts above, cacao beans offer fiber (a whopping seven grams) and a fair amount of monounsaturated ("good") fats. There are also some minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and copper. The ingredient also offers vitamin D, an essential nutrient that supports calcium absorption. The nutrient Vitamin D is especially important when following a plant-based diet. Just like fresh fruits and veggies, cacao beans are also teeming with antioxidants. This makes them a key player in reducing cancer risks. Antioxidants are amazing at inhibiting the activity of free radicals by neutralizing them. An overabundance of free radicals can lead to cell damage and oxidative stress, a major factor in the development of chronic conditions such as cancer and heart disease, so it is a great thing that cacao fights off these offenders. Just as free radicals contribute to chronic conditions, they also contribute to higher levels of inflammation in the body, so introducing cacao can help lower inflammation levels as well.
Another reason why cacao is so good for you is that it is full of polyphenols, which act as prebiotics in your gut. Prebiotics "feed" the good bacteria in your gut, helping them grow and flourish, which, in turn, can help you avoid both temporary and chronic digestive issues. Simultaneously, the polyphenols may also work against the bad bacteria in your tum by inhibiting their multiplication. Together, these effects help maintain microbial balance in the gut, which is key for supporting basic functions such as immunity and metabolism. While cacao is not the only source of prebiotics, who wouldn’t want an excuse to eat some chocolate? So, next time you sprinkle some cacao nibs on your smoothie bowl or stir some cacao powder in your oatmeal, you can think back to this article and feel good about your decision.