By Christina Major  |   22 March 2021   

Chocolate is chocolate, isn't it? Really, chocolate is one of the few things we can enjoy that's truly healthy for us and downright decadent.

But, you can get a little confused with the difference between cacao and cocoa. Even though these are both derived from the cacao bean, and it's just a slight syllable change, these two have a big difference in both taste and health properties.

What is the difference between Cacao and Cocoa Powder?

Even though they both started together from the cacao bean, it's the processing that makes the difference. However, neither cacao nor cocoa is a standardized term, so be sure to double-check any products you get.

Cacao refers to any food product derived from the raw cacao bean. Some of these include raw cacao nibs, butter, paste, or the most widespread use: cacao powder. In the raw product, the cacao still retains the enzymes that benefit our system but removes most of the fats.

Cocoa produces cocoa butter and cocoa powder, but first, the raw cacao bean gets roasted at high temperatures. This roasting has the effect of changing some of the molecular structures into other compounds; destroying many of the cacao's health benefits. But some are enhanced.

Now here's where it becomes really confusing. Most of the studies done on chocolate are on raw cacao, not cocoa. And unfortunately, many store-bought chocolate bars use cocoa rather than cacao (unless they're specifically marked).

We're going to talk about cacao's health benefits, but we want to assure you that cocoa is no slouch nutritionally, either. Cocoa is still rich in polyphenols, particularly resveratrol. People who tend towards a higher dark chocolate percent or raw cacao find a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and death. Some studies show that it only takes 1 oz of chocolate per day, and higher amounts did not show any more benefit (only weight gain, which is a negative).

These polyphenols can help improve your brain function, memory, reduced depression, and curb cravings. Some even link cocoa-rich diets (remember, that's only 1 oz) to a lower risk of diabetes and cancer. The theobromine and theophylline found in cocoa may help asthma.

What are the Health Benefits of Cacao Powder?

Cacao has all of those health benefits, just a lot stronger. There are about 60% more flavanols in cacao versus cocoa, which are the cardioprotective antioxidant benefits. It also contains iron easily absorbed by your body. Plus, cacao increases the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, which can help boost your mood.

Several of the flavanols in cacao have explicitly been studied to help improve the nitric oxide levels in your body. This can help relax your blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and increase circulation to extremities.

And you may be surprised to learn that cacao can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke and may have a similar effect to aspirin in helping mitigate an ongoing problem. You can talk to your doctor if you're at risk for a heart attack, and they recommend aspirin, showing that chocolate might be just as good.

How To Use Cacao To Enhance Your Training

GracieMag, the principal publication for BJJ, recommends using raw cacao powder to make delicious and healthy treats. You don't need to deprive yourself of chocolate when training if you choose the right supplements.

You can keep many of the same recipes you love, just exchanging cocoa powder for the healthier cacao powder. Just remember that cacao has a stronger chocolate taste and you may need to use a little less (or not if you really enjoy chocolate). It also will absorb more liquid, so you may need to add more liquid to your recipes to avoid over-thickening (again, not a bad thing for smoothies and shakes).

But, here’s the big one: cacao is more acidic than cocoa (which is much healthier for your digestive system, too). That means in recipes it will react faster to liquids and cause a faster initial rise and less secondary rise in baking. You may need to substitute baking powder for some of the baking soda in those recipes.

Fortunately, you don’t have to eliminate your favorite flavor when you use cacao. It’s a healthy form or chocolate.

We know a lot of diets recommend you eliminate all the fun foods, like chocolate. However, a small amount of chocolate daily can provide many antioxidants and flavanols that can enhance your overall health.

And then, before competitions and fights, you may find your snacks give you more of an energy boost and protective factor against bruising, traumatic injury, and stress by consuming a little bit more.

Just be careful of the product you choose. Many protein powders include cocoa powder as part of their ingredients but generally, source their product from the cheapest available. It's a low quality, therefore low nutrient additive.

Want to pick up a high-quality, great-tasting Cocoa powder? We suggest you look at Cocoa Bliss Dietary Supplement Powder. It is Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Keto Friendly, Soy Free, USDA Organic, and 100% Vegan. It has a great flavor, and with only 35 calories per serving, it will leave you feeling satisfied and guilt-free.

Choosing a whole foods diet that eliminates processed junk, you can choose dark chocolate-covered almonds or walnuts. That gives you all the benefits of the cacao, a hefty dose of healthy fats, and a snack that will really fill you up. Or try the recipe for the dark chocolate brownies in the link above.

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About the author

Christina Major is a Holistic Nutritionist, Naturopath, and herbalist. She owns Crystal Holistic Health, a nutritional consulting and writing business specializing in complementary and alternative medicine. She has over a decade of helping people find health, lose weight, and get off medications. Christina has practiced martial arts for 18 years. Staring with an eclectic group in college, she practiced Tang Soo Do and Tai Kwan Do for three years after graduation. After moving to Central PA, she began studying Taijutsu where she obtained a 2nd-degree black belt and studied the art directly under the Soke and top Shihan in Japan. She met her husband, a 5th-degree in class, where they enjoy giving each other bruises and kisses.

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