What comes to your mind when you first hear the word “cacao”? TBH, many of us can’t differentiate between “cacao” and “cocoa.” No, they aren’t the same! Well, in a sense they are since they’re two names of the same bean, but while cacao refers to the beans that haven’t been roasted yet, cocoa beans are roasted and give off that intoxicating aroma we can’t get enough of!
Many of us identify cacao as the core ingredient in chocolate and cocoa as the primary one in coffee. Considering the ill-effects of both those foods that have been drilled into our thinking, we probably associate the beans with all things unhealthy. But do you know cacao is packed with a lot of goodness for our bodies? It includes antioxidants, minerals, and fibers, and it’s no secret that these elements go a long way in improving one's blood sugar levels and cognitive function.
So today, let’s give cacao beans their due credit by looking at their benefits, and also explore the right way to consume them.
Benefit #1 - It controls blood sugar
Studies have shown that increased blood glucose levels play a significant role in the incidence of diseases such as diabetes and heart risks. Cacao beans contain special antioxidants which enhance the secretion of insulin, a hormone that allows our cells to absorb and use the glucose we intake through our food. This is particularly beneficial for people suffering from or at risk of diabetes or heart problems. Additionally, cacao contains fiber which aid in stabilizing blood sugar levels. Just one tablespoon of cacao nibs have an equivalent amount of fiber as that of a medium-sized banana!
Benefit #2 - It enhances cognitive function
Research has shown that dark chocolate (which contains lots of cacao) improves our brain function! This is thought to be due to the compound theobromine found in cacao. It works in ways similar to caffeine by hindering the chemical adenosine (a substance that makes us sleepy). Adenosine works by gradually binding to certain receptors which in turn makes us tired and drowsy once we’ve been awake for a certain period. Theobromine blocks these receptors making us feel refreshed and lucid, thus increasing our cognitive function.
How to Cook, Bake and Eat Cacao
Now that you know the health benefits of cacao, you’re probably wondering how you can incorporate more of it into your diet with foods other than just chocolate. Continue reading to find your answer.
Does anything get better than steaming hot chocolate on a cold evening? This is the perfect drink for any mood or occasion and is so easy to make. Simply take your cacao powder (unsweetened for a health kick) and mix it into hot milk. To make it sweeter, just add sugar or honey!
Baked goods are so versatile; they can range from granola to brownies and you can incorporate chocolate into just about all of them! A classic is the chocolate chip cookie which can be made with cacao powder. Although to satisfy the sweet tooth, sweetened cacao powder works best!
If you’re a gym junkie, serial bruncher, or just want to add some cacao to your diet in a quick and easy way, try smoothies! Add in all your normal ingredients for a smoothie (milk, yoghurt, fruits etc.) and simply sprinkle in some cacao nibs. To make sure the smoothie is not too bitter, incorporate some dates, bananas or honey and you’re good to go!
Summing it up
What we’re trying to get at here is - don’t feel guilty for eating that block of chocolate! After all, we all deserve treats once in a while. So why not treat yourself to the ever-so-beneficial and versatile cacao?!