10 Benefits of Cacao

A-Dynamic-Health-Duo-Cacao-and-Coffee Struesli
If you've ever heard that chocolate has health benefits, it all boils down to the cacao. Basically, cacao is where chocolate starts, and it's a very potent source of flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants. Thus, the health benefits of cacao are many, including lowered blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, increased blood flow, and lowered inflammation. Learn more about the top 10 health benefits of cacao, and how we've put this mighty ingredient to work in Struesli

What is Cacao?

Cacao is the name for raw, unrefined beans that can eventually be turned into chocolate. When you remove the husk, dry, roast, and grind cacao beans, you get little pieces called cacao nibs, which are edible and oh-so good for you!
From there, you can further grind the nibs into powder (cacao powder), which is often used to make chocolate baked goods or even hot cocoa. Then, you could liquefy the powder and add sugar (and sometimes milk) and let it harden into a smooth bar, which is the type of chocolate that most people are familiar with. 

What Are Cacao Nibs?

Cacao nibs are the unsweetened small pieces of crushed cacao beans, the beans from which chocolate are made. Cacao nibs have a hard texture, but they are still chewable and digestible, and they have a bitter dark chocolate flavor.

Cacao Pronunciation: How to Pronounce Cacao

By now, you've been reading the word cacao several times in this article, and you may be wondering how to pronounce cacao. This two-syllable word is pronounced as "kuh-kau" whereas kau sounds like cow. Read on to learn why this odd-sounding ingredient is appealing to chefs and nutritionists alike, as there are many benefits of cacao. 

10 Cacao Benefits

Raw cacao, like that used in Struesli, is packed with flavonoids, which are powerful plant-based antioxidants. The flavonoids in cacao have been linked to many health benefits, mostly notably the following ten cacao benefits. 
  1. Fighting off inflammation - chronic inflammation is a serious health threat, and eating more foods rich in antioxidants (like cacao) are one of the best defenses against the body having elevated inflammation 

  2. Reduced cholesterol - the flavonoids and fiber in cacao can help rid your body of excess cholesterol and has been linked to lower levels of LDL cholesterol 

  3. Lowered blood pressure - this benefit is due to the high antioxidant content of cacao, which has been connected to increased blood flow

  4. Improved blood flow - similar to how flavonoids act to lower blood pressure, they have been connected to increased blood flow to the brain and heart, which can also help prevent blood clots. The high flavonoid count in cacao increases the nitric oxide, which helps the walls of your arteries and blood vessels relax, making it so blood can flow better  

  5. Improved insulin resistance - flavonoids in cacao may improve the way your body responds to and takes up glucose for the blood (aka reduced insulin resistance)

  6. Reduced heart disease risk - because of all the above factors, from reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to improving insulin resistance, PLUS the fact that cacao is a good source of fiber and heart-healthy minerals (like phosphorous, magnesium, and potassium), cacao is considered a heart-healthy food choice and is linked to lowered risk of heart disease 

  7. Ward off dementia - because flavonoids in cacao can help improve blood flow to the brain, they could improve memory retention and ward off brain decline conditions like dementia

  8. Improved brain function - cacao contains a special type of flavonoid called epicatechin, which has been connected to better cognition and improvements in focus and learning 

  9. Improved mood - cacao contains antioxidants and neurotransmitters (serotonin and tryptophan, specifically) that have diverse functions in the boy, including improved mood  

  10. Enhanced performance - due to its flavonoid and caffeine content, cacao can improve blood flow and alertness, which are components of improved physical performance and reaction times 

Is Cacao Good For You? 

Cacao, in its most natural forms of cacao nibs and cacao powder, comes with many health benefits, which are mostly due to the high antioxidant and fiber content. But because of its bitter flavor profile, cacao is often paired with sugar or other sweeteners, which is when the health benefits come into question. A dark chocolate bar (60% cacao or greater) still contains high antioxidant levels and even some fiber, whereas a milk chocolate bar contains very little cacao and high amounts of milk and sugar. Cacao nibs and cacao powder in Struesli, for example, are very good for you, as Struesli does not contain any sugars or sweeteners of any kind. 

Cacao vs Cocoa

Cacao is available as cacao nibs and cacao powder, which are the most natural forms of what you can eat from cacao beans. Cocoa is best known as a substance that you drink (aka: hot cocoa made from cocoa powder). Cocoa powder does contain some cacao, but it also has added sugar and sometimes also contains added milk powder. 

Pairing Coffee and Chocolate (Cacao + Coffee)

If you’ve ever sipped a mocha or bit into a chocolate bar infused with coffee, then you already know that the bold flavors of chocolate and coffee taste great together. In fact, coffee is a known way to increase the chocolate notes in a food. Master chefs will sometimes add a bit of ground coffee to chocolate cake or a bit of brewed coffee to chocolate ice cream, for example, to make the taste experience supremely elevated. That's one of the reasons the Cacao + Coffee variety of Struesli is so appealing. And here are some other reasons that coffee and cacao are a match that's meant to be. 
Struesli Cacao + Coffee uses two forms of cacao: unsweetened cacao nibs and unsweetened cacao powder. These ingredients add some wonderful rich cacao flavor and that beautiful dark brown color, but don’t expect it to be sweet like a chocolate bar. Because Struesli doesn’t contain sweeteners of any kind, the flavor of the raw cacao shines through. 
The cacao nibs and cacao powder make up about 10 percent of a batch of Struesli, which is just the right amount (and we know you’ll agree when you taste it) to contribute some unmatched flavor and stellar health benefits. 

The Benefits Coffee

Coffee is another great source of polyphenol antioxidants. Scientifically, the antioxidants from coffee have been linked to lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, brain decline, and liver disease.
The single-source organic coffee in Struesli is roasted in Vermont, and a little goes a long way. About 1 percent of each batch of Cacao + Coffee Struesli is made up of the ground coffee. So while it’s not overpowering, you can definitely smell and taste its goodness. A quarter-cup serving of Struesli contains about 18 milligrams of caffeine, which is not a significant source and about the equivalent of ¼ cup of brewed coffee.

Coffee and Chocolate Perfected, Made In Small Batches

We tested many ratios of the cacao and coffee components to make sure this version of Struesli is just as crispy, delicious, and healthful as Struesli Original but has a flavor all its own. We are so proud of Struesli Cacao + Coffee and we can’t wait for you to enjoy it in many ways! Our favorite ways to eat this rich and dark Struesli is on yogurt, in parfaits, sprinkled over toast with nut butter, added to smoothie and fruit bowls, as a topping for baked goods or pancakes, as a snack, and in recipes.
Written by Jessie Shafer, RD
Updated January 31, 2024

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