The Health Benefits of Cacao

Renée Naturally Qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist & Western Medical Herbalist

Centuries ago, cacao beans were so revered, that they were regularly used as a form of currency. Fast-forward to the modern (chocolate obsessed) world, and their value continues to rise…somewhat surprisingly, especially amongst the health conscious! So what exactly is the difference between cacao and cocoa and why is cacao all the rage in the health world right now?

The terms ‘cacao’ and ‘cocoa’ are often mistakenly used interchangeably to mean the same thing. ‘Cacao’ refers to both the unprocessed beans that are used to make chocolate and the tree (Theobroma cacao) that they come from. Cocoa is what the beans are called once they have been cleaned, roasted and processed. Cacao is the same bean but still in the raw state; uncooked and unprocessed. So quite simply, cacao becomes ‘cocoa’ once cooked and processed, but unfortunately its nutrient potency decreases with its exposure to heat.

However, raw cacao is choca-packed with antioxidants, magnesium and ‘bliss’ nutrients that can help keep you energised, healthy and happy. Cacao can also increase the levels of serotonin your brain produces, through the release of certain neurotransmitters. This is beneficial if you’ve been feeling down and depressed, a condition that can come with lower levels of serotonin. Neurotransmitters act like messengers that run around in our brain telling the body what to do. They orchestrate our moods, influence our thought patterns, and affect our energy levels, states of alertness, concentration and drowsiness.


In addition, cacao contains many beneficial components such as antioxidants, theobromine, phenylethylamine, essential minerals and vitamins.  Below is a brief summary of why cacao is deemed as a ‘superfood’:

Antioxidants: One of the main health benefits of cacao is its high concentration of antioxidants. In standard chocolate, the processing and cutting (adding new ingredients and mixing them together) of the raw cacao tends to lower its antioxidant levels. Research published in the Journal of Clinical nutrition reveals that the antioxidants in cacao are protective of the heart and circulatory system.

Theobromine: This is a mild stimulant and can give people a very mild rush, enhancing their mood. However, it is good to be mindful that, in excess, this can cause some people to feel hyper and then lethargic, in a very similar way to caffeine.

In combination with theobromine, phenylethylamine can elevate your mood. When you eat cacao, you are potentially increasing mental concentration, livening up your attitude, and encouraging feelings of joy. Cacao also contains the so-called “bliss chemical” Anandamine, a neurotransmitter that is naturally released when you’re feeling great.

Essential minerals: Cacao beans are loaded with many essential minerals required for a healthy body. These include magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese. Most significantly, raw cacao is the highest known source of magnesium per gram on the planet; an important fact to note, as magnesium deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the Western world!

Essential Vitamins:  Raw cacao is a source of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and Pantothenic acid.

So there you have, it’s not just a rumor…chocolate really isn’t so bad for us!  The raw cacao variety that is…

Where to buy cacao
Cacao can be bought as a powder and nibs and you can find it in most health food and organic stores. Also some supermarkets are starting to stock it too.


Recipes with Cacao

Coconut & Cacao Cake with Marshmallow Frosting
Get the recipe here

COconut cake

Cacao & Coconut Granola
Get the recipe here


Cacao Cream Tart
Get the recipe here






Join New Zealand’s trusted health & wellbeing community

Access to New Zealand's largest resource of health and wellness information, with regular updates sent to your inbox. PLUS, be in to win great giveaways.
Join Us


Your opinion matters! Share your thoughts with the community.

Join New Zealand's trusted health and wellbeing community

Access to New Zealand's largest resource of health and wellness information, with regular updates sent to your inbox. PLUS, be in to win great giveaways and access members-only discounts.

Join Us

This will close in 35 seconds