5 Ways organic cacao is a health game changer

5 Ways organic cacao is a health game changer
5 Ways organic cacao is a health game changer. Image source: Unsplash

When it comes to superfoods, organic cacao is a worthy inclusion in this category. If it’s included as part of a healthy diet, it’s an excellent source of antioxidants and other nutrients that can significantly improve your health over the long term.

A brief caveat: when we talk about cacao in this context, we’re talking about raw, relatively unprocessed cacao such as powder or nibs produced organically, without the use of chemicals. In comparison, the cacao that is used in most other chocolate products goes through significant processing which removes many of its beneficial health properties.

With that in mind, doctor and dietician Kirsten Gerrard, who consults to wellness brand Tony Ferguson, tells us about five ways organic cacao can be a health game changer.

1. It’s an antioxidant

Did you know that raw cacao contains 40 times more antioxidants per 100g than blueberries? Being so rich in antioxidants, it can repair damage to cells caused by ageing and rejuvenate the skin. Antioxidants also fight free radicals, which ultimately help your body protect itself against the development of cancer.

2. It’s an anti-inflammatory

Due to its high concentration of flavonoids, cacao is an effective anti-inflammatory. Many chronic conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure) involve inflammatory processes, so organic cacao can help reduce these. Organic cacao’s anti-inflammatory effects have also been shown to improve insulin resistance to assist in maintaining normal sugar levels to counteract diabetes. Studies have also found that populations who consume a significant amount of organic cacao have lower rates of these and other chronic diseases.

3. It’s high in fibre

In addition to all the usual gut health benefits that fibre offers, consuming cacao regularly can also help in decreasing cholesterol levels through its fibre content. This, together with its anti-inflammatory effects, can decrease the risk of heart attack, strokes, kidney failure and other serious health complications.

4. It has mental health benefits

Organic cacao offers a range of mental health benefits including mood elevation and stress control, but some studies also suggest it may help with memory and concentration. A 2020 scientific study found that the flavanols found in cacao have a positive impact on brain function and can promote higher cognitive performance with regular use. It’s also a good source of serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylethylamine, which together are associated with increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing.

5. It has a high iron content

Organic cacao is often noted for its high content of iron, magnesium and potassium. But the iron content of cacao is particularly impressive: it offers a four times more concentrated iron source then meat products. However, the problem is that it’s far easier to eat 100g or even 300g of meat per day than it is to eat even 100g of organic cacao a day. The good news is that even just 25g of cacao a day can offer a boost to your iron intake, when used as a supplement to other iron-rich foods.

In South Africa, organic cacao is easy to find (one example is Tony Ferguson’s organic cacao powder). With all the wonderful benefits it offers, here are some ideas on how to include cacao in your daily diet:

  • Organic cacao powders or nibs can be incorporated into your breakfast, either blended into a smoothie or sprinkled over your morning muesli.
  • There are plenty of organic cacao balls, bars and other products available that can make for a great snack – just make sure you read labels and check for sugar content to ensure they contain healthy ingredients. You can also make your own with recipes such as these peanut butter and cacao balls.
  • Organic cacao can be used to make warm beverages like hot cocoa, however it’s not as sweet as normal chocolate products so it may take some getting used to. Try combining it with a non-nutritive sweetener such as stevia rather than adding sugar, honey or syrup which will add empty calories to your diet.
  • As the base for chocolate, the cacao flavour can be a wonderful addition to other low sugar healthy dessert options.

While cacao is definitely a wonderful superfood with a host of health benefits, it’s not a miracle cure. It should never be used as a replacement for essential prescription medication for conditions such as diabetes, though it may offer benefits in conjunction with it. It’s also difficult to determine how much good superfoods like cacao do without taking genetics and other factors into account.

Overall though, including organic cacao in your daily diet is a great way to boost your health, and you’ll get the most out of it when it’s coupled with a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, good sleep and regular stress control practices.