Recent studies on the health benefits of chocolate have spread like wildfire. Go figure. I myself am a chocoholic! But what if I told you I found something related to chocolate that had even more health benefits? The cacao nib is a powerful superfood that beats out other superfoods by a landslide! Plus, they are way tasty!
What are Cacao Nibs?
While dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa solids is a superfood, the cacao nib blows it out of the water! Cacao nibs are where all chocolate starts, but it depends on what is done to it after it is collected from the beans (yes, cocoa is a bean) from the Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao nibs are actually the bean after it has been roasted, taken out of its husk and broken into little pieces.
Before we start talking about the health benefits, we need to dispel a common myth: chocolate doesn’t equal cacao nibs. The tasty chocolate you enjoy in a candy bar starts out as cacao nibs, but then is ground into a powder. Chocolate, as we know it, goes through a lot of processing and has other ingredients added to the raw cacao powder to turn it into chocolate that goes into commercial candy bars. It contains roasted cocoa, along with milk, sugar, and other ingredients.
But, it’s important to understand that you don’t get all of the health benefits I’m going to talk about here with that type of cocoa! You only get these amazing benefits from raw cacao, the cacao nib, which is kept raw or roasted to keep it super powers. You can find them here.
Top 10 Health Benefits of Cacao Nibs
Improves cellular health
We’ll cover this first since I already mentioned it. Cacao nibs have more antioxidants than other superfoods, including green tea, acai, blueberries and pomegranates! Antioxidants are vital to our health because they fight damage to our cells done by free radicals. Think you are eating healthy by sneaking in some dark chocolate? You definitely could be eating worse snacks, but cacao nibs have almost 4 times the antioxidants of dark chocolate!
Provides feel-good chemicals
Cacao nibs prompt the brain to release serotonin, a feel-good hormone. I personally notice this right away when I eat them, my mood lifts! They also contain anandamide, an amino acid often referred to as the “bliss molecule” and the compound phenylethylamine. Phenethylamine triggers the release of endorphins and other happy chemicals in the brain. These brain chemicals elevate mood and stabilize it, including during a woman’s menstrual cycle. (This explains women who have a bunch of dark chocolate bars and a box of tampons in the grocery store checkout.) These three processes are like the holy trinity of chill!
Protects cardiovascular system and heart
Cacao nibs contain flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory antioxidants that protect the heart and the arteries in your heart and brain. Flavonoids thin the blood and prevent clots. They help prevent heart disease, stroke, lower blood pressure and improve circulation. Cacao also contains over 700 compounds and the complex antioxidant polyphenol, which together lowers LDL or “bad” cholesterol and raises HDL or “good” cholesterol. In fact, cacao is actually better at protecting your heart than any heart drug on the market. Shocking, huh? Not really, Mother Nature knows her stuff!
Prevents premature aging
The polyphenols that protect your heart are in the same family as the antioxidants found in red wine and green tea. They protect cells from oxidation, which keeps you feeling and looking young. Wine and chocolate anyone?
The cacao nib contains MAO which naturally suppresses your appetite. MAO is often added to weight loss products. The additional benefit is that naturally-occurring MAO allows serotonin to continue circulating at a higher rate than other appetite suppressants. That’s good for keeping you from getting grumpy while working to lose weight. Your family will thank me. 🙂
We now know that the pesky stress hormone, cortisol, makes us retain fat that we would rather shed. The properties in cacao nibs reduce cortisol in the bloodstream, heighten fat-burning and even improve the microbial activity in the gut.
Prevents tooth decay
The crystalline extract found in cacao nibs strengthens tooth enamel and is even more effective than fluoride at preventing cavities.
Improves cognitive function
Various compounds, including flavonoids, found in cacao nibs increase blood flow to the brain, which improves memory, reaction time, problem-solving and attention span. This additional blood flow lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia as we age. Also, cacao nibs are high in magnesium, which we will talk more about later. Magnesium is vital for mental health and a healthy, active brain. Deficiencies in magnesium have been linked to ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, and schizophrenia.
High in fiber
The amount of fiber in cacao nibs is astounding! There’re 9 grams in just a one-ounce serving! Of course, this stimulates bowels and your digestive enzymes, but fiber is also important for keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level and your blood glucose levels stable.
Thanks to the magnesium found in cacao, eating it raises energy levels and reduces fatigue. Cacao is one of the highest natural sources of magnesium. Magnesium also fights type II diabetes and osteoporosis and naturally lowers blood pressure. Magnesium is vital to over 300 functions in the body, including controlling blood glucose, synthesizing proteins and regulating blood pressure.
Though we’ve already mentioned ways cacao nibs improve heart health, there’s, even more, good stuff in them that keeps our cardiovascular system happy and healthy. Potassium has been proven to help regulate blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and cancer.
So, instead of picking up a candy bar, even a healthy 70+% cocoa bar, choose to snack on cacao nibs! You can find all types of recipes for them, and they are even good just out of the bag, though you may need to get accustomed to the rich, slightly bitter taste before you enjoy them like that. When your brain hears “cacao” it thinks sweet and creamy, so it can be a bit shocked by the bitter, nutty flavor of the cacao nib. I put them in my morning smoothie, and you can see that recipe here. Enjoy!