Cacao powder - not to be confused with the very similar cocoa powder - has been getting a lot of hype lately. So I decided to dig a bit deeper into cacao powder benefits and see for myself what really makes this 'superfood' so super. 

One of the main things I had to watch out for was that a lot of articles gave the same benefits of raw cacao to cocoa powder. This might not seem like a big thing, but the problem is roasting raw cacao to turn it into cocoa powder changes the molecular structure, and eliminates a lot of its benefits. Turns out they do more than just rearrange the letters.

1. It's Full of Antioxidants

Cacao is one of the highest ranking foods in antioxidant levels, and even beat out Acai berries because of how varied cacao antioxidants are. Plus we can all agree on how to say cacao.

What the Hell Do Antioxidants Even Do?

If you're a smarter foodie than I am, you probably already know exactly what antioxidants do and why they're so important, but I'll honestly admit that I have no clue. Up until this point I had just been blindly praising the power of antioxidants, without really knowing anything about it. So I looked into it. 

There are these molecules in our bodies called 'free radicals' which cause damage to our cells and DNA, leading to disease, cancer, and other fun things. They occur when tissue undergoes oxidative stress, and ANTIoxidants work to prevent this process, which is why everyone is so obsessed with them. Makes sense.

2. Increases Blood Flow and Lowers Blood Pressure

One type of these antioxidants is called flavanol, which is allll up in cacao powder. Flavanols stimulate the lining of the arteries, which cause them to chill out and increase blood flow. This increase in blood flow then decreases blood pressure and reduces blood clots. Thanks, flavanol. 

3. Lowers Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) causes damage to the lining of the arteries in the heart by reacting with the free radical molecules I talked about before. It makes sense then that cacao powder reduces this LDL cholesterol by reducing the number of free radicals and protecting the LDL from reacting and oxidizing.

That being said, if you're eating a Supersized Big Mac every day, sprinkling some cacao powder on top isn't going to be enough to reverse that artery damage. 

4. Protects The Skin From The Sun

Those same flavanols that lower blood pressure can also amp up blood flow to the skin and increase skin hydration. This can mean less acne (#bless), less intense sunburns, and more protection from sun-induced damage like dark spots and wrinkles. Sounds pretty great to me.

However, it is important to keep in mind that shovelling cacao powder into your mouth doesn't mean you can lay in the sun for 12 hours and come out damage free. Sunscreen and shade are still your best friends when it comes to sun damage.

5. It Increases Happiness!

If we learned anything from Harry Potter, it's that this claim is true. Just like it's cousin chocolate, (and looking at the smoothie bowl above) cacao powder releases endorphins similar to the ones associated with runner's high and phenethylamine, the chemical our body produces when we start feeling the heart eyes emoji IRL.

Since cacao powder hasn't been processed though, the production of these "happy chemicals" are a lot higher than with normal chocolate. Maybe they should start handing out raw cacao after Dementor attacks instead.

#SideNote: If you don't get these Harry Potter references, I'm sorry and please go read the books/watch the movies immediately.

How To Cash In On All These Benefits:

Even though raw cacao powder is such a powerhouse superfood, it's not always a favorite food because it has none of the sweetness associated with chocolate. It can be more bitter than an ex after a messy break up, and therefore, not for everyone. However, there are thousands of recipes that temper this bitterness with other delicious ingredients.

Whether you're adding it to a smoothie bowl, desserts, or yummy snacks the general consensus is that if you're having about a tablespoon of cacao powder once a week, you're good to go to soak up all those cacao powder benefits. Happy trails, Spooniverse, and I hope your cacao powder benefits treat you well!