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Cacao Health Benefits, Nutritional Value and Uses

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What is Cacao?

The fruit, called a cacao pod, is ovoid, wide, ripening yellow to orange, and weighs about 500 g when ripe comes from Cacao tree which is a small evergreen tree in the family of Malvaceae. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called “beans”, embedded in a white pulp.

The leaves are alternate, entire, unlobed, long and broad.The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; this is known as cauliflory. The flowers are small with pink calyx.  The seeds are the main ingredient of chocolate, while the pulp is used in some countries to prepare refreshing juice, smoothies, jelly, and nata. The seeds are the most valuable part of the plant as they provide the source material for what eventually is to become chocolate. Mature trees start to produce fruit after about five years. They can live for over 200 years, though commercially they are considered productive for only about twenty-five years. Its seeds, cocoa beans, are used to make cocoa mass, cocoa powder, confectionery, ganache and chocolate.

Health Benefits of Cacao

Blood pressure: Flavonoid-rich cocoa aids in lowering blood pressure and improving the elasticity of blood vessels. The presence of antioxidants in cocoa that stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which helps to keep blood vessels relaxed. Furthermore, this helps in maintaining a healthy circulatory system.

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Bronchial Asthma:  Cocoa beans contain xanthine and theophylline, which aid in relaxing bronchial spasms and opening constricted bronchial tubes. This facilitates an easy flow of air and is valuable in curing various allergies, including asthma and shortness of breath. Its consumption therefore helps in providing relief from bronchial asthma.

Mood Enhancer: Consuming cocoa has shown antidepressant-like effects on certain physiological processes. cocoa flavonols help to enhance mood, combat depression, and promote improved cognitive activities during persistent mental exertion. The presence of the neurochemical phenylethylamine in it also helps in enhancing feelings of contentment and promoting aphrodisiac effects.

Good Heart Health: cocoa is rich in flavonoids namely, procyanidin, catechin, and epicatechin, which have antioxidant properties and help in protecting the cells from damage while strengthening the heart. It also aids in improving endothelial function and stimulating the beneficial HDL cholesterol. It helps in preventing the formation of fatal blood clots, which can lead to stroke or cardiac failure. Blood platelets play an important role in cardiovascular disorders. Flavonoids present in cocoa possess anti-platelet aggregating effects and modulate primary hemostasis, which is the measure of time blood takes to clot. All these health effects help in preventing the proliferation of various medical conditions like atherosclerosis and thrombosis, which are some of the prime causes of more serious cardiovascular diseases

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Prevent premature aging: Polyphenol antioxidants found in cacao belong to the same group of antioxidants as green tea and red wine. These anthocyanins (found in dark colored fruits) and catechins (found in green tea) protect our cells from premature oxidation or destruction and can keep us looking and feeling younger longer.

Lower your blood pressure naturally: cocoa has a large concentrations of magnesium found in this natural food source. Magnesium also helps to protect against osteoporosis, reduces type II diabetes, and lowers blood pressure

Protect your skin against the sun: The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration The minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause redness in the skin, 24 hours after exposure.

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Uses of Cacao

Cacao butter produced from cacao is used by the pharmaceutical industry, though some herb shops and pharmacies still supply Cacao seed shells, sold as a diuretic tea.
Cacao’s main use is as a source material for Cocoa powder and Chocolate
Cacao butter is heavily used in the cosmetic