It’s natural to think that eating a piece of chocolate is pure indulgence, but there are some health benefits lurking in that treat. And for that, you can thank cacao, which is the bean that ultimately gets transformed into a chocolate bar.
Cacao happens to be full of antioxidants called flavonoids, which do all sorts of good things to your body. Research shows that people who eat more chocolate tend to have a lower risk of heart issues like heart attack and stroke. It’s also associated with having a lower risk for type 2 diabetes. And then there’s one of the best benefits of eating chocolate: It can help boost your mood (although it isn’t clear if this is because people enjoy eating it or an actual physiological reaction).
That doesn’t mean you should start eating all the chocolate you can—the chocolate in the dessert aisle can be highly processed and packed with sugar. Instead, why not experiment with adding pure cacao to your diet?
It often comes in powder form, but you can also find it in nibs, which are little crunchy bits. The important thing is adjusting your expectations about how sweet the cacao will taste. “Cacao doesn’t have sugar added to it, so it can have a more bitter flavor,” says Catherine Kruppa, RD, a nutritionist in Houston, Texas. “But it can be an easy way to make something taste chocolatey and decadent and give you a lot of health benefits without the sugar.”
Here are a few of the ways you can crank up the cacao in your diet:
Add it to your smoothies. The next time you’re blending up breakfast or a snack, add some cacao powder to dial up the chocolate flavor. This works particularly well with smoothies that contain bananas, which get creamy when pureed.
Sprinkle some over your yogurt. Cacao nibs are crunchy, which goes great with a yogurt parfait. Add it to some berries and shredded coconut for the perfect topping.
Go DIY with your hot cocoa. Mix cacao powder with a little vanilla extract and sugar for a cozy hot drink. You control how much sugar you put into it, meaning you can use way less than the premixed packets.
Mix it into your trail mix or granola. Substitute cacao nibs for chocolate chips and you get a great chocolatey hit with every bite.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.