Crazy For Cacao: The Benefits Of Everyone's Favorite Flavor

Crazy For Cacao: The Benefits Of Everyone's Favorite Flavor

Did you know cacao was originally called the "food of the gods?"

This name was given by the Aztecs, who revered the cacao plant, believing it to be a gift from the god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl.

The Aztec tribes are long gone, but their cocoa-loving legacy lives on. Today, chocolate is one of the most universally loved foods.

Of course, a lot of chocolate on the market contains sugar, palm oil, and other processed ingredients that can affect our health. Pure cacao, however, is a whole different story.

The health benefits of cacao run from boosting energy to helping to ward off chronic disease.

What's the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?

Before we get started, let's quickly clarify one thing: what's the difference between cacao and cocoa?

We use the two terms interchangeably, but it's worth understanding each word regardless.

Cacao and cocoa originate from the cacao bean, but their names refer to different processing stages.

Cacao is the raw, unprocessed form of the bean, typically found in cacao nibs or cacao powder. It retains more of the bean's natural nutrients and flavors. On the other hand, cocoa results from roasting, grinding, and sometimes further processing the cacao bean.

Cocoa often undergoes higher temperatures during processing and is used to make cocoa powder and chocolate products. So, the main difference lies in their processing: cacao is raw and minimally processed, while cocoa is the processed form used in various culinary applications.

We use cacao in our Superfood Focus Bites, while The Good Stuff™ Focus uses a cocoa-based ingredient.

Boosts Brain Function

We don't call them Superfood Focus Bites for nothin'!

With our brains bombarded by stress and stimuli from all sides, foods like cacao help us care for our cognitive health.

Cacao beans contain both caffeine and theobromine.

Theobromine is a stimulant that improves blood flow, which can lead to better concentration, attention, and memory.

It can also increase alertness, provide a gentle energy boost, and stimulate the release of endorphins, the "feel-good" chemicals in the brain, which may contribute to a mild sense of well-being.

On the other hand, caffeine offers a tremendous mental boost and can help you feel physically energized. This is because caffeine blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter responsible for promoting sleep and relaxation, from binding to its receptors in the brain. This action increases the release of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, leading to increased alertness, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive function.

Caffeine can also boost the brain's adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, which provides energy for various cellular processes, including those involved in mental focus and clarity.

Cacao's antioxidants also play a crucial role in its brain-boosting abilities because its antioxidant line-up is dominated by flavonoids.

Research from 2013 revealed that the flavonoids in cacao can enter the brain and cause widespread stimulation of enhanced brain blood flow. They can also stimulate the formation of new blood vessels and neurons in areas related to memory and learning. Positive effects on mood were also noted.

The research also showed that cacao flavanols can inhibit the death of neurons due to neurotoxins such as alcohol. Cacao flavanols were even shown to promote brain plasticity.

Can Help Fight Fatigue

If helping to boost your brain wasn't enough, cacao can also assist in fighting off fatigue. A recent study concluded that dark chocolate may reduce fatigue in middle-aged adults and mediate cognitive function.

The researchers found that dark chocolate had the following effects on participants:

  • Reduced physical and mental fatigue
  • Enhanced vitality
  • Improved executive function, memory, and gray matter volume

The fatigue reduction was associated with an overall improvement in physical function. This, in turn, positively impacted emotional functioning and relieved body pain.

An older study from 2010 showed that cacao may even help reduce the burden of symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome.

Busts Inflammation

One of cacao's most significant health benefits is its potential to help fight inflammation.

Reducing inflammation can aid with recovery and minimize general aches and pains.

Chronic inflammation is linked to both the onset and progression of multiple chronic diseases, although it's not always clear whether inflammation is a contributing cause or a result of disease. Researchers have described it as a "chicken-and-egg scenario."

That said, diet and lifestyle are two ways to guard against inflammation, and cacao can be a valuable component of an anti-inflammatory diet.

Cacao contains more antioxidants per gram than any fruit, including blueberries, and decreases the production of cytokines, which are inflammatory proteins.

Good for Gut Health

If you often find yourself craving chocolate, you'll be happy to know your gut isn't totally misguiding you.

Cacao beans contain a host of polyphenols, which act as prebiotics in the gut. Prebiotics are an essential component of good gut health.

They get less attention than probiotics, but the two work hand in hand. Prebiotics are a food source for probiotics, helping them flourish in the gut.

Nurturing the good bacteria in your gut can support immune function, metabolism, and better digestive health.

Gut bacteria aren't just responsible for processing food and fighting viruses. Newer research is also revealing links between gut health and mental health.

Cacao's role as a prebiotic isn't unique. Many foods naturally contain prebiotics, but we'll gladly take cacao's prebiotic boost and its other health benefits!

Great for Your Mood

Turns out, there might be a scientific reason why we reach for chocolate ice cream during a breakup. Dark chocolate has a longstanding reputation as a mood-altering food.

A recent study showed that the consumption of 85% dark chocolate can directly improve one's mood, not just because of the delicious taste.

Cacao's effect on the gut is the underlying mechanism by which it can influence mood. According to one study, prebiotics in cacao can directly influence what types of microbes thrive in your gut.

In the study we just mentioned, daily cacao consumption triggered increased gut microbial diversity. Researchers believe this restructuring can improve negative emotional states via the gut-brain axis.

Supports Heart Health

The antioxidants in cacao can assist in combating oxidative stress and inflammation. Both of these symptoms can increase the risk of heart disease.

The antioxidants in cacao beans can also promote vasodilation (aka widening) of the blood vessels by releasing nitric oxide. Through this action, blood flow can improve, which in turn can decrease high blood pressure.

Cacao also contains copper, magnesium, and potassium, three heart-healthy minerals that can help reduce the risk of hypertension and plaque buildup in the arteries.

Taken together, these actions can have an impressive cumulative effect on the heart. A study done in 2017 revealed that eating six 30-gram servings of chocolate per week could reduce heart disease and stroke risks.

Blood Sugar Stabilizing Antioxidants

Cacao's flavanols can help enhance the secretion of insulin.

Insulin is responsible for blood sugar regulation and the transportation of glucose to your cells. Chronic blood sugar elevation is a crucial risk factor for diabetes.

Cacao is also a great source of fiber, containing roughly 2 grams per tablespoon. Fiber also plays a key role in stabilizing blood sugar and slowing the rate of digestion.

Enjoy the Health Benefits of Cacao Without the Added Sugar

Taking cacao can boost your body in many ways, but you have to be careful how you consume it. You don't want to undo all of the health benefits of cacao by washing it down with hefty doses of sugar.

The unhealthy components of most traditional chocolate bars will undermine the benefits of the cacao they contain, so if you want to leverage the health benefits of cacao, you also need to think about quality.

Enter our Superfood Focus Bites. Our Superfood Focus Bites are designed to satisfy your hunger, fuel your body, and boost your brain with organic cacao, as well as lion's main mushroom and guarana seed.

They taste just like a cocoa-espresso brownie, with none of the guilt!

Alternatively, we use a cocoa extract in The Good Stuff™ Focus to support your mood and cognitive function. Plus, it gives our super-powered super-powder a delicious mocha flavor.

Browse our products to learn more, or email us at

Back to blog