Cacao vs cocoa
Cacao has become very popular recently, and for good reason. Firstly, though, what is the difference between cocoa and cacao?
Cacao is the unprocessed cocoa bean. It is high in minerals such as magnesium and theobromine, as well as a range of antioxidants. It is handled and processed less than cocoa.
Once the cacao is processed (usually at high temperatures), it becomes cocoa. Cocoa is still rich in minerals such as magnesium, theobromine*, potassium and copper (1), and is usually much cheaper than cacao. The health benefits are similar if you are consuming the products raw. If you are baking with cacao, you are likely to lose the nutritional benefits that it has over cocoa while it is being cooked.
Cocoa/Cacao and Stress
Due to the high magnesium content in cocoa and cacao, it can be beneficial to help with stress. Magnesium is excreted in high amounts during times of stress, so we usually need to consume more. Have you ever wondered why you crave chocolate when you’re stressed? This could be why!
Other benefits of magnesium during stressful times include:
- Muscle relaxation – whose muscles don’t tense up during stress?
- Relaxes blood vessels, improving circulation and blood flow.
- Increases nitric oxide production, which increases the flow of oxygen.
- Reduces damage to cells.
- Supports the nervous system.
- Supports the adrenal glands.
- Helps to make neurotransmitters such as serotonin (which helps us to feel happy and calm) and glutamate (used to passed messages from one nerve cell to another) (2)
A 2013 study found that participants who drank a cocoa-based drink felt calmer and more content. (3)
Cocoa also contains resveratrol, which help to produce that feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, as well as having a calming effect on the brain.
Recipe: Quick and Easy Raw Chocolate
Now that we know the benefits of cocoa and stress, how can we use it? Try this easy recipe for raw chocolate by Bianca at Wholefood Simply:
- 1/2 cup cacao or cocoa
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1 tablespoon runny peanut butter
Mix the ingredients together, pour the chocolate into silicon moulds or over your slice.
Place in the fridge or freezer to set. Store in the fridge.
*Theobromine is the substance that is poisonous to dogs. In humans, it has shown some benefit in asthma and other respiratory problems like cough for which no drug has been developed. (4) Please make sure you consult your healthcare provider if you are experiencing asthma symptoms or respiratory problems.
- 2018, ‘Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened Nutrition Facts and Calories’, Nutrition Data, viewed 1 February 2021, <https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5471/2>
- Cuciureanu M D & Vink R, 2011, ‘Magnesium and Stress’, Magnesium in the Central Nervous System (Internet), University of Adelaide Press, viewed on 1 February 2021, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507250/>
- Pace M, et al, 2013, ‘Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial’, Journal of Psychopharmacology, 27:5, p451-458, viewed on 1 February 2021 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881112473791
- Martinez E et al, 2015, ‘The relevance of theobromine for the beneficial effects of cocoa consumption’, Frontiers in Pharmacology, 6:30, viewed on 1 February 2021 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4335269/#:~:text=As%20relatively%20stable%20compound%2C%20theobromine,definitive%20drug%20has%20been%20developed>