No matter how you spell it, cacao or cocoa contains several nutrients that contribute to your overall health. It adds rich chocolate flavor to drinks and sweets. Cacao in its raw, unsweetened form is an ideal food. When cooking with cacao, add only natural sweeteners. Excess table sugar or artificial sweeteners will take away from cacao's health benefits.
The most abundant nutrients in cacao are minerals. The USDA National Nutrient Database reports that a 1-tablespoon serving of cacao powder gives you 10 percent of your recommended daily intake of copper and manganese. Cacao is also high in magnesium, iron, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. Calcium, selenium and a trace of sodium round out cacao's mineral content.
One tablespoon of cacao powder contains 1.8 grams of fiber, or 7 percent of your RDI. Considering the small size of that serving, cacao packs a significant fiber punch. Use a tablespoon to make a warm chocolate drink, and you will be well on your way to reaching your recommended fiber intake. If you are baking with cacao powder, a 1-cup serving contains 28.6 grams or 114 percent of the RDI. Researchers in Spain studied the effects of cacao fiber on rats that had high cholesterol. The results of their study, published in the April 2007 issue of "Nutrition," show that cacao fiber reduces both cholesterol and triglyceride levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
The vitamins in cacao powder consist of the B family and a small amount of vitamin K. A 1-tablespoon serving contains 1 percent of the RDI of vitamins B-2 and B-3, also known respectively as riboflavin and niacin. The amount of vitamin K is a mere 0.1 microgram, which does not even register against the RDI. However, if you bake with cacao powder and use a 1-cup serving, the amount of vitamin K registers at 2.2 micrograms, or 3 percent of the RDI. Vitamin K is responsible for your blood's ability to clot properly, and if you are on blood-thinning medications such as warfarin or aspirin, it is important to be aware of your vitamin K intake, even if you only consume a small amount.
Cacao powder contains a significant amount of protein, with 16.9 grams or 34 percent of the RDI in 1 cup and 1.06 grams or 2 percent of the RDI in 1 tablespoon. The National Institutes of Health reports that protein must be consumed daily, as your body does not store it the same way it stores carbs and fats. Consuming cacao powder helps you reach the RDI of protein, which the NIH states is between 50 and 65 grams.
Fats and Sugars
Cacao powder does contain 0.74 gram of fat in 1-tablespoon, or 1 percent of the RDI. The sugar content in the same serving measures 0.09 gram. Both measurements are insignificant when consuming a small serving. When cooking with cacao powder, add natural sugars and low-fat creams to your dishes. Researchers at Yale University, in the Nov. 15, 2011 issue of "Antioxidants and Redox Signaling," stated that cacao protects your body from inflammation, nerve injury, decline in brain function and poor moods. Though overindulgence in high-fat, high-calorie forms of chocolate may lead to obesity, the researchers state that cacao's health benefits outweigh the risks.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Cocoa, Dry Powder, Unsweetened
- Nutrition: A Diet Rich in Dietary Fiber From Cocoa Improves Lipid Profile and Reduces Malondialdehyde in Hypercholesterolemic Rats
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin K
- National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus: Dietary Proteins
- Antioxidant and Redox Signaling: Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease
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