Table of Contents
What Are Cacao Nibs?
Cacao nibs are essentially dried bits of cacao beans, also known as cocoa beans. Cacao beans are what chocolate is made from.
The cacao bean is found within the fruit produced by theobroma cacao. The name “theobroma” is derived from Greek, translating into “food of the Gods”.
Theobroma cacao is a tropical tree within the Malvaceae family. It bears large, pod-like fruits which contain between 20 and 60 cacao sees apiece.
This tropical tree is native to the rainforests of the Orinoco and Amazon River basins. Today, it is also grown commercially in tropical regions of Asia and western Africa. (Source)
The cacao tree has a rich history stretching back almost 3,000 years. It was cultivated by ancient civilizations such as the Mayans and Aztecs.
The Mayans would prepare a beverage made from cacao beans that was used in certain ceremonies. The cacao bean also held value as a form of currency.
Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico at the start of the 15th century. Through the Aztecs, they were introduced to chocolate as a beverage.
The Aztecs would dry the cacao beans in the sun, ideally after the beans had fermented in their pods for a time. Once dried, the beans would be roasted over a fire and ground into a paste.
The resultant paste would be molded into little cakes, which were then allowed to cool and harden. These small cakes would then be mixed with hot water to produce xocoatl, which translates as “bitter water”.
Although the Aztecs would mix the cacao paste with other spices and herbs, Europeans found xocoatl excessively bitter. When the cacao drink was introduced to Spanish high courts, it was mixed with sugar to sweeten it.
By the 16th century, chocolate had become popular across Europe. Various individuals and firms experimented with adding milk and other ingredients to cacao paste and beans to produce chocolate. (Source)
Cacao nibs in their raw form are the purest form of chocolate. They do not contain artificial or additional ingredients (i.e. sugar). As cacao nibs are unprocessed, they have a nutty, mildly bitter chocolate flavor.
Cacao nibs are dried and then fermented. They have a similar texture to coffee beans that have been dried and roasted. (Source)
Cacao nibs are rich in phytonutrients and packed with vitamins and minerals. They are also a source of antioxidants.
Two tablespoons (28 grams) of cacao nibs contain approximately 130 calories. That same serving contains:
- 4 grams of protein
- 12 grams of fat
- 10 grams of carbohydrates
- 9 grams of dietary fiber
Cacao nibs contain essential minerals, such as magnesium and potassium. One 28 gram serving of cacao nibs contains approximately 80 milligrams of magnesium. (Source)
Cacao nibs are also rich in iron. One serving of cacao nibs can provide you with 18 percent of your daily value for iron. (Source)
Additionally, cacao nibs have trace amounts of key vitamins such as:
Various studies have established that cacao can have beneficial effects on your health. These health benefits are related to a flavanol called epicatechin, which is found in cacao.
For this reason, dark chocolate is generally considered healthier than milk chocolate. The manufacturing process for dark chocolate allows it to retain epicatechin.
Comparatively, milk chocolate contains significantly less epicatechin. Milk chocolate tends to contain more artificial ingredients than dark chocolate.
Cacao nibs are cacao in its purest form. The only process they are subjected to is being roasted and removed from their husks.
Cacao nibs are rich in magnesium, which is a vital mineral in our bodies. Magnesium plays a key role in over 300 different types of biochemical reactions within the body.
Cacao nibs can also help reduce the symptoms of anemia such as fatigue. They contain iron, which helps in the production of red blood cells.
As cacao nibs are packed with fiber, they can help you feel more satisfied for longer. Fiber is useful for promoting regular bowel movements and avoiding constipation.
A study set out to observe the effects of regular cacao doses on constipated subjects. The subjects were given raw cacao supplements for a period of four weeks.
At the end of the study, the subjects reported improved symptoms overall. When the subjects ceased taking cacao supplements, the frequency of bowel movements declined once again.
Cacao contains numerous antioxidants, particularly in its rawest form (cacao nibs). These antioxidants can contribute towards lowered risk of stroke and heart disease.
A study examined the effect of beverages and foods derived from plants on coronary health. The results revealed unprocessed cacao can have the following effects:
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce insulin levels
- Improve vascular function
- Improve blood platelet function
Aside from physical health, cacao nibs can help to boost your mood. Cacao nibs can stimulate the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
The neurotransmitters that are affected by cacao include dopamine, which can cause euphoria. Cacao nibs may also promote better focus and awareness.
Cacao contains the lipid anandamide, also known as the so-called “bliss molecule”. Anandamide has a molecular shape similar to THC, which is found in marijuana. (Source)
Are Cacao Nibs Paleo-Friendly?
The Paleo diet is all about a wholesome, natural way of eating. Your meals will be made up entirely of nutrient-packed healthy foods.
The Paleo diet is founded on one simple concept. You may eat only what was available to our Paleolithic ancestors.
The average Paleolithic human being was lithe and athletic. Current-day humans face skyrocketing rates of obesity and related health conditions.
The typical diet during the Paleolithic era was far different from today. Our ancestors were hunter gatherers, eating only what could be caught or found in nature.
At the time, the agricultural revolution was thousands of years in the future. This means popular grain-based foods like bread and pasta did not exist.
Today, a lot of our diet is made up of grain-based products. Processed foods with little to no nutritional value are also consumed to excess.
On the Paleo diet, the following items are off the table:
- Processed foods (i.e. frozen and fast food)
- Sugary foods and beverages (i.e. candy)
- All grain-based products
- All dairy products
- Alcoholic beverages
Your diet will consist of foods that are nutritionally rich and as natural as possible. You will be eating:
- Meat (preferably grass-fed, not grain-fed)
- Fish (preferably wild, not farmed)
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruit (in moderation)
- Healthy natural oils (i.e. coconut, olive, etc) (Source)
If you’re unsure about a food or beverage, follow the golden rule. If it wasn’t available approximately 3 million years ago, avoid it!
Cacao nibs are permitted on the Paleo diet, both raw and roasted. However, it is important to ensure the cacao nibs are raw – meaning no additional ingredients or flavorings. (Source)
Are Cacao Nibs Keto-Friendly?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. The diet has been followed since the early 19th century to control weight and even treat seizures.
The keto diet is so named because it promotes the metabolic state ketosis. Your body enters ketosis when it is deprived of food.
Don’t be alarmed! The keto diet is far from a starvation diet. You’ll be eating plenty of high-fat nutrient dense foods.
In fact, the only thing you’ll be starving your body of is carbohydrates. The science behind the keto diet is straightforward.
Most people eat diets that are high-carb. Your body converts carbohydrates to glucose, which is then used as fuel.
When your body has plenty of glucose available to burn as energy, it stores fat. By restricting carbohydrates, the keto diet can shock your body into ketosis.
In ketosis, your liver begins breaking down fat and producing ketones. These ketones are then used as fuel.
The more you restrict carbohydrates, the faster your body will enter ketosis. Ideally, you should not consume more than 15 grams of carbohydrates per day.
On the keto diet, you will be avoiding:
- All grain-based products
- Sugar (both natural and artificial)
- Tubers (i.e. yams and potatoes)
- All fruit (except avocados and berries)
- Instead, you will be eating:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Above-ground vegetables
- Meats (preferably grass-fed)
- Fish (preferably wild)
- Nuts and seeds
- Alternative sweeteners (i.e. stevia)
- Healthy fats (i.e. grass-fed ghee, coconut oil, etc)
When planning your meals, keep in mind ideal quantities for each food group. Your nutrients should come primarily from fats (70 percent).
Protein should make up 25 percent of your diet. Finally, carbohydrates should be less than 5 percent of what you eat. (Source)
Cacao nibs are unprocessed and nutrient-rich. They are an acceptable addition, in moderation, to a keto diet. (Source)
Are Cacao Nibs AIP-Friendly?
The AIP diet aims to reduce the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. AIP stands for autoimmune protocol.
There are over 80 known autoimmune diseases. Depending on the condition, symptoms may range from skin issues to chronic pain.
There are no cures for autoimmune diseases, only treatments for the symptoms. All these disorders are caused by the immune system self-attacking.
The AIP diet aims to combat inflammatory symptoms by healing the gut. The diet is highly restrictive, removing foods and beverages that provoke gut inflammation.
When mucosa in your intestine heals and begins to thrive, your health improves overall. This means you are less likely to suffer autoimmune system flare-ups.
The AIP diet is more comprehensive than most standard elimination diets. A significant amount of foods that are considered gut irritants are eliminated entirely.
The AIP diet consists of two phases. The first phase lasts between 6 and 8 weeks.
During this phase, you will entirely avoid the following foods and beverages:
- All grain-based products
- All dairy products
- Processed foods
- Nightshade vegetables
- Refined sugar (i.e. soda and candy)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Seed-based culinary herbs
- Nuts and seeds
- Alternative sweeteners
This list may seem overwhelming at first glance. However, it is only for the first phase of the diet to heal your gut.
You will be able to re-introduce your preferred foods back into your diet during the second phase. This must be done in a controlled manner to ensure your food of choice isn’t irritating your gut.
On the AIP diet, you will be primarily eating:
- Fruits (in moderation)
- Meats (preferably grass fed)
- Fish and seafood
- Honey and maple syrup (in limited quantities)
- Coconut products
- Healthy fats (i.e. olive oil and cultured ghee)
- Fermented foods
- Non-seed herbs (Source)
Chocolate is prohibited during the first phase of the AIP diet. Obviously, the less processed chocolate is the better.
Cacao nibs may be eaten in limited quantities during the second phase of the diet. Still, proceed with caution. Cacao is generally considered an irritant, and you should monitor your gut’s reaction. (Source)
How To Use Cacao Nibs
Cacao nibs are a versatile food. They can be used as a complimentary ingredient or consumed in raw form.
To get all the health benefits of cacao nibs, quality is important. Choose cacao nibs that do not contain additional ingredients or sweeteners.
Cacao nibs do have an intense chocolate flavor, but they are not especially sweet. The flavor of cacao nibs is also dependent on how long they have been roasted for.
Cacao nibs can be eaten raw, as they are. If the distinctive flavor isn’t for you, you can add them to beverages or meals.
Cacao nibs can be ground up and added to a citrus-based salad dressing. Foods high in vitamin C can help promote absorption of iron found in cacao nibs.
You can add cacao nibs to your smoothie of choice for an extra nutrient boost. Cacao nibs may also be mixed with savory sauces. (Source)
Cacao nibs can be added to dairy or almond milk. A simple recipe for a healthy, sweet drink:
- Warm up a glass of your preferred milk
- Add 1 tablespoon of raw cacao nibs (ground)
- Add 1-2 teaspoons of a natural sweetener (i.e. honey)
Cacao nibs are not subjected to processing, unlike cocoa powder. They should not be heated beyond 38 degrees Celsius (or 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Otherwise, they will lose their nutritional benefits. (Source)
Cacao nibs have a multitude of health benefits! Nonetheless, they do contain stimulants (theobromine and caffeine) and should be consumed in moderation. (Source)
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