Whole cacao beans, the base ingredient for chocolate, are not edible as is -- they have a thick, fibrous shell. However, the smaller nibs inside the beans are edible, and they're a widely available way to eat relatively unprocessed cocoa. Cacao nibs are made from the hulled beans; the pod is removed and only the interior portion remains. After roasting, they're ready to eat -- and they offer lots of health benefits.
High in Fiber
Cacao nibs are naturally high in fiber, with 9 grams of fiber per 1-ounce serving. Fiber provides bulk to your diet and can make you feel fuller with fewer calories, leading to less food consumed. A single serving of cacao nibs has 31 percent to 42 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of fiber for women and 27 to 30 percent of the RDA for men. A diet high in fiber can also decrease your chances of heart disease and improve digestion by alleviating constipation.
Low in Added Sugar
While not as sweet as chocolate, cacao nibs still naturally contain sugar, making them a good snack choice when you’re looking for something sweet but healthy to snack on. A 1-ounce serving of cacao nibs has only 0.19 gram of sugar, none of which is added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your amount of added sugar to no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons per day as a diet high in sugar increases your chances of obesity and weight gain. Natural sugar, such as that found in cacao nibs, is also healthier for you because it is not “empty” calories -- eating natural sugar means you also get other nutritional content with those calories.
Reduces Fat Cell Production
A 2013 issue of the “International Journal of Obesity” found that the antioxidants in cocoa, polyphenols, may help with treating obesity. The animal study took place over the course of five weeks, and researchers found that after taking cocoa polyphenols, rats fed a high-fat diet gained less weight -- and fat -- than those who did not receive the supplement. Researchers also found that the cocoa supplement had an effect on fat cell production in the test subjects, potentially helping prevent obesity in rats. While the study showed promise, it did not mention the potential benefits of cocoa polyphenols on weight and fat gain in humans, and the effects may not be the same.
Using Cacao Beans
Cacao nibs can be eaten as is as a nutritious snack, but they can also be mixed in with other foods. They have a pronounced chocolate taste, so they can stand in for chocolate chips in cookies, trail mix and brownies. However, nibs are not as rich-tasting, or as sweet, as chocolate. Cacao nibs can also be used in savory dishes, such as a pizza topping or a simple salad topping to provide extra crunch.