Raw Cacao Nibs Are the Healthy Form of Chocolate You've Been Waiting For

Get your chocolate fix with raw cacao nibs! Rich in fiber and protein, these treats will delight your senses without adding inches to your waistline. Plus, they're packed with antioxidants that fight inflammation and protect your heart. This superfood will skyrocket your energy and satisfy your sweet tooth instantly.

Cacao nibs come from pure cacao beans and boast high antioxidant levels. (Image: Almaje/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Raw cacao nibs are minimally processed and retain their nutritional value. Think of them as pure chocolate. Cocoa nibs are roasted and may lose antioxidants during processing.

What Are Raw Cacao Nibs?

Imagine yourself sitting on the couch and eating a smoothie bowl with cacao nibs sprinkled all over. It's delicious and energizing — and it simply feels cozy. But did you know that cacao nibs pack a hefty nutritional punch?

These delicious treats come from cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma cacao tree. They're produced by crushing the beans into tiny pieces. Raw varieties are made from unroasted cacao beans. Think of them as pure chocolate.

With their crunchy texture and naturally sweet flavor, cacao nibs go well in ice cream, smoothies, oatmeal, trail mixes, banana bread, homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownies. They're minimally processed and retain their nutritional value. Their taste is similar to that of unsweetened dark chocolate.

Are Cacao Nibs Really Healthy?

These delightful treats are loaded with phytonutrients and other potent antioxidants that support your health. Compared to dark chocolate and cocoa powder, they're higher in fiber and lower in fat. Plus, they contain no added sugar or artificial sweeteners. One serving (28 grams) has only 130 calories, so it fits into any diet. You'll also get:

  • 4 grams of protein
  • 10 grams of carbs, including 9 grams of fiber
  • 12 grams of fat
  • 27 percent of the DV (daily value) of manganese
  • 25 percent of the DV of copper
  • 16 percent of the DV of magnesium
  • 9 percent of the DV of phosphorus
  • 2 percent of the DV of calcium
  • 3 percent of the DV of vitamin K

Raw cacao nibs also boast large doses of iron, zinc and selenium. Magnesium, one of their key nutrients, contributes to over 300 enzymatic reactions, including energy production, DNA synthesis, nerve transmission and insulin metabolism. This mineral supports the proper function of the brain, heart and muscles.

From a nutritional standpoint, this superfood is just as good as, or even better than dark chocolate. The latter provides 168 calories, 12.8 grams of carbs, 3.1 grams of fiber, 12 grams of fat and 2.2 grams of protein per ounce. Dark chocolate is higher in iron, magnesium and B complex vitamins, but it also packs more calories and fat. Raw cacao nibs boast more fiber and protein, keeping you full longer and facilitating weight loss.

Raw Cacao vs. Cocoa

Before going any further, let's discuss the difference between raw cacao and cocoa. Both come from the Theobroma cacao tree but have a different chemical composition and nutritional value. The difference between the two lies in their processing. However, the terms cocoa and cacao are often used interchangeably.

Raw cacao powder and cacao nibs are minimally processed. Manufacturers grind cacao beans and extract the fat. Next, they ferment the beans and turn them into powder. Fermentation is optional, though. If you break the beans into bite-sized pieces, you get cacao nibs.

Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is made from cacao beans roasted at high heat; this process destroys some of its nutrients and alters its molecular structure. Quality cocoa powder is still an excellent source of minerals and antioxidants. One ounce provides 63.8 calories, 5.5 grams of protein, 3.8 grams of fat and 16.2 grams of carbs, including 9.3 grams of fiber. Beware, though, that many food manufacturers add milk fat, oil, sugar and preservatives to cocoa powder.

Cacao Nibs Benefits

These bite-sized treats are a healthy substitute for milk chocolate, candies and other sweets. They're the least processed form of chocolate and claim high antioxidant levels. According to a 2017 review published in the journal Nutrients, cocoa beans contain large doses of polyphenols. These antioxidants protect against heart disease and may improve cardiac markers, such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels.

The phytochemicals in cocoa products have been linked to lower rates of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular problems. These superfoods are loaded with catechins, theobromine, caffeine and other plant compounds that slow aging, promote mental health and fight oxidative stress. Due to their antioxidant properties, phenolic cocoa ingredients may induce cancer cell death, according to a 2016 study featured in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.

Cacao benefits are well-documented. The bioactive compounds in this superfood have been shown to suppress inflammation and improve the body's natural defenses. Furthermore, they promote skin health, reduce diabetes risk and neutralize free radicals. Theobromine, one of the most abundant antioxidants in cacao, appears to be particularly beneficial for the brain, which brings us to the next point...

Cacao Nibs Are Brain Food

The minerals, antioxidants and amino acids in cacao nibs and other cocoa products keep your brain sharp and lift your mood. A 2015 clinical trial published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition assessed the beneficial effects of cocoa flavanols on mental health in seniors. These compounds have been found to improve cognitive performance and reduce age-related cognitive impairment. Subjects have also experienced improvements in glucose metabolism and blood pressure.

Other studies cited in this paper suggest that cocoa flavanols may slow brain aging and increase cerebral blood flow. They also support cardiovascular health and protect against age-related disease. These nutrients may also improve task performance, learning and memory, according to 2016 study published in Nutrition and Healthy Aging.

Cacao nibs are also rich in magnesium. This mineral has a protective effect on the brain and may help prevent neurological disorders. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety and Alzheimer's disease.

Fight Heart Disease Naturally

If you're a chocoholic, you'll be happy to hear that cacao nibs keep your heart healthy. The phenolic compounds in cocoa products have beneficial effects on blood pressure, blood lipids and cardiovascular function. According to a 2014 review featured in the journal Nutrients, cocoa consumption may increase lifespan and protect against coronary heart disease. These benefits are largely due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Dietary polyphenols may also protect against diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease. These nutrients exhibit anti-diabetic properties and help your body use glucose more effectively. At the same time, they inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which in turn, may improve insulin sensitivity.

Cacao Nibs in Recipes

For a delightful experience, sprinkle cacao nibs over homemade granola, trail mixes, baked goods and coffee drinks. Mix them with cranberries, chia seeds, oats, banana chips and nuts for a healthy energy bar. Enjoy these treats between meals to naturally boost your energy and ward off fatigue. Just make sure you purchase raw cacao nibs, not cocoa nibs — the latter are roasted and have lower antioxidant levels.

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