Cacao may not be commonly referred to as a therapeutic herb these days, but it has at least 4,000 years long history of use for health purposes. The white-colored seeds of cacao fruits, called cacao beans,were so immensely prized by Mayans and Aztecs that they used them as currency.And it will be even more surprising for many that the use of cacao beans as currency continued till the late 19th century in Mexico.Many of cacao’s health benefits are also confirmed by modern scientific research.
Cacao beans come from cacao tree, scientifically known as Theobroma cacao – Theobrama Greek for ‘food of the gods’. Even though the plant is native to Central and South American tropical regions, 70% of cacao plants are grown in West Africa today.
How is Cacao Different from Cocoa?
Cacao and cocoa are often confused and some may even use the terms interchangeably. However, the two are different; they come from the same source though!
Cacao powder is made from raw cacao beans whereas cocoa powder is made from roasted beans.
What Does Cacao Contain?
Cacao is packed with a number of health beneficial compounds. It’s packed with flavonoids, theobromine, and antioxidants.The amount of antioxidants present in cacao is higher than blueberries, making it one of the best natural source for these free-radical fighting compounds.
Cacao also contains dietary fiber, some protein, and arange of essential minerals, including calcium, iron, and magnesium.
A Brief History of Cacao Use for Health Purposes
The history of cacao use can be traced back to about 4,000 years, but researchers and historians are of the opinion that the use of this plant for culinary and health purposes may had begun even before that. The beans of cacao tree have traditionally been used for nourishment of body, improve digestion, stimulate appetite, strengthen heart, and for a range of health issues, including fever and kidney-related problems. Cacao beans are also believed to help improve overall health and wellness, which then contributes to increasing the lifespan.
Cacao leaves,taken from the flowers, were also used in some cultures for burns and other skin issues and for alleviating certain stomach issues.
Health Benefits of Cacao
Some of the incredible benefits of cacao are as follows:
· It Can Help Improve Heart Health
While modern researchers are still studying the heart beneficial properties of cacao, Aztecs figured them out long before us. They called it ‘yolloti eztli’, which meant heart blood.
According to research findings, cacao can help improve heart health in various ways. It helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol level, improve the functioning of blood vessels, and may also help reduce insulin resistance. Since all these factors are connected to heart health, regular consumption of cacao can help improve heart health.
The heart health benefits of cacao are believed to come from the high concentrations of antioxidants and flavonoids in raw cacao beans.
Cacao is also the best wholefood source of magnesium, which also plays a key role in healthy functioning of heart. Lower magnesium levels or the efficiency of this mineral can cause heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, and coronary arteries spasms. Magnesium also helps regulate blood pressure.
· It Helps Improve Cognitive Function
Research shows that cacao can also provide many positive benefits for brain and its cognitive function. The seeds of cacao fruit can make you more alert and also helps improve memory. The polyphenols and bromine present in cacao has also been found to stimulate brain’s reward mechanism, much more strongly than caffeine.
· It Enhances Mood
The feelings of pleasure and happiness that you experience after eating chocolate (chocolate lovers know what we’re talking about) are real. Research shows that cacao has amazing mood boosting properties; thanks to the phytonutrients it contains.
Theobromine helps uplift mood whereas phenylethylamine ensues a feeling of contentment. Cacao is also believed to help improve the levels of endorphins and serotonin, both of which play vital roles in mood regulation and feelings of happiness.
The Sum Up
Cacao is one of the few natural ingredients whose benefits are backed by both traditional medicinal practitioners and modern healthcare experts alike. However, you need organic cacao, and not those processed, sugar-rich chocolates, to reap the health benefits of cacao.Wondering where can you find organic cacao, completely free of additives? We’ve got you covered!