Who doesn’t love chocolate? Seriously… Did you know that chocolate may be a fantastic nootropic? It’s true. To be more precise, it’s the cacao within the chocolate that may offer nootropic benefits and boost your cognition, memory, and mood.
Cacao beans come from the Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao has been used for thousands of years, however, it only received attention for its nootropic and health benefits in recent years.
Cacao, cocoa, and dark chocolate are rich in flavonols and antioxidants that benefit your health, including brain function. Cacao may improve cerebral circulation, blood vessel elasticity, cognitive health, memory, and mood. It may lower inflammation and the risk of disease.
In this article, you will learn what cacao is. You will understand what is the difference between cacao and cocoa, and which one may be better. You will learn about the nootropic and health benefits, side effects, forms, dosage, and usage of cacao.
What Is Cacao?
Cacao was first used in Central-America, South-America, and Mexico by the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs, and other indigenous tribes over 5,000 years ago. Later it was used by Spanish explorers as well. This may explain the Spanish origins of the word cacao (ka-COW) as well.
These indigenous tribes used cacao beans crushed and mixed with water creating a cacao drink. They also added honey, chili, corn, and spices to add some flavor to this otherwise bitter drink.
They also used cacao beans as a currency to pay for goods. When Christopher Columbus arrived in America, the Aztecs even exchanged cacao beans with him for some goods for his ship. Columbus and his crew were new to cacao and were not ready for it.
It was Hernan Cortez, another conquistador, who enjoyed the drink so much that he decided to take the cacao beans back to Spain. Soon cacao was brought to other parts of the world. You can find cacao plantations in most tropical areas of our planet.
Where Does Cacao Come From?
Cacao beans, or seeds, are native to Central- and South-America and Mexico. However, they can and are being grown in other tropical areas near the equator.
Cacao trees grow thick, tough-skinned, and oval-shaped pods. Inside these pods hide the raw cacao beans covered with a white, softy pulpy substance. This white pulp tastes pretty sweet compared to the bitter cacao.
What Is the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?
You are probably more familiar with the world cocoa than the world cacao. You may wonder what this cacao and raw cacao craze are all about. What is the difference between cacao and cocoa? Or are they the same?
Both cacao and cocoa refer to the same original ingredient, cacao bean, yet there is more difference between the two than their spelling. In short, cacao refers to the fresh and unprocessed form, whereas cocoa is the roasted, processed, and sweetened form of the bean.
Understanding this distinction between the two is important for you to understand the difference between the health benefits of cacao and cocoa. While cacao is abundant of health benefits, cocoa and cocoa products may have less or no benefits.
Through processing, as cacao becomes cocoa, it loses some of its benefits. Once it’s sweetened, caramelized, and candied into a candy bar, it has absolutely no benefits for you.
Is Raw Cacao Better Than Cocoa?
Even though cacao is less processed than cocoa, high-quality cocoa has similar qualities and health benefits. Through processing, raw cacao loses some of its benefits but not all. For some, cocoa is actually easier to digest and absorb.
It is important to understand that we are talking about high-quality, organic cocoa and cocoa products. Once the cocoa is further processed, heated, melted, molded, and candied with high heat, refined sugar, unhealthy fats, additives, and unnatural ingredients, it loses its benefits.
Milk chocolate, chocolate candy bars, chocolate cake, chocolate spreads and dips, chocolate frosting, chocolate ice cream, chocolate shakes, and other sugary chocolate goodies are not healthy. They do not possess any nootropic or health benefits.
However, raw cacao and high-quality cocoa may both be beneficial for your health. While there is a lot of research on the benefits of both cacao and cocoa, there isn’t any research comparing the two. Therefore, we don’t know how much better cacao may be for your health.
Why Cacao and Cocoa?
Both raw cacao and cocoa have countless health benefits. They are both rich in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. They are fantastic nootropics that may enhance your mood, cognition, and brainpower. They are also delicious with countless ways to include them in your life.
Cacao as a Nootropic and Superfood
Cacao is a natural food that is considered a superfood due to its powerful health benefits and nutrition content. It is also considered a nootropic thanks to all the benefits it offers your brain health, cognition, and mood.
What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics is an umbrella term for chemicals that may provide cognitive benefits to the human brain. Nootropics may boost brain function and cognition. They may improve your learning, boost your memory, help your brain function, and protect your brain with few or no side effects.
Nootropics may be natural or may be synthetic, or lab-made. They are always designed for therapeutic purposes and to boost your brain. Many people prefer natural nootropics, such as cacao, for safety and natural health benefits.
Natural nootropics include naturally derived supplements extracted from foods, herbs, plants, botanicals, and animals. Taking a natural supplement may be more effective than eating the whole food as it usually has a greater concentration of the active nootropic per weight.
Nootropics and superfoods are not the same, however, there is an overlap. Some nootropics, such as cacao, turmeric, and Rhodiola are both nootropics and superfoods.
What Are Superfoods?
Superfoods are various foods that are considered to be extremely nutritionally dense and beneficial for your health. Most superfoods are plant-based, including herbs, spices, mushrooms, leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables, but some come from fish and dairy.
Some superfoods include cacao, blueberries, kale, turmeric, Reishi mushrooms, and acai berries. Some superfoods, such as cacao, turmeric, Ashwagandha, and Lion’s mane mushroom possess potent nootropic benefits.
Some superfoods are eaten as whole foods. Others are used as a powder, tincture, or supplement. Some may be used both as a food and as a supplement. Nootropics are normally used as supplements to ensure higher potency over whole foods.
Why Do You Need Cacao?
Let’s be honest, most people don’t get enough micronutrients and phytonutrients from their diet that is necessary to support a healthy brain function. However, these nutrients are necessary for blood flow, neuroprotection, neurotransmitter release, and inflammation reduction.
When your body is undernourished and your brain is not receiving the nutrients it needs, it may lead to oxidative damage from free radicals. This may lead to an array of health issues.
A lack of antioxidants may lead to chronic inflammation, neurodegeneration, insulin resistance, mitochondrial dysfunction, increased belly fat, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, accelerated aging, chronic pain, and disease. Cacao is one of the most potent antioxidants that may help.
Cacao is loved by many chocolate lovers. Besides its great taste, it is also a great antioxidant that may help to reduce inflammation and disease. It also has fantastic nootropic benefits to support your brain, cognition, and mood.
Cacao is a powerful nootropic that may boost your brain health and functions in a variety of ways. Two of the most important benefits of nootropic benefits include improving your mood and boosting your memory.
Cacao may stimulate the release of endorphins in your brain enhancing your happiness. Thanks to tyrosine the precursor of dopamine, and tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, and anandamide, the bliss molecule, it may have serious mood-boosting benefits.
Cacao is also rich in flavonoids that may support neural function, neurogenesis, and brain connectivity. They may improve your cerebral blood flow as well. As a result, cacao may enhance learning, memory, and cognitive performance.
While an overall healthy diet is absolutely essential for your brain and overall health, nootropics are there for even further support. Cacao is a fantastic way to benefit your brain, cognition, and mood naturally without side effects or toxicity.
How Does Cacao Feel?
Raw cacao or minimally processed cacao may encourage your brain to release endorphins leaving you euphoric or joyful. It also contains anandamide, a bliss chemical that naturally boosts your mood.
Cacao is rich in phenylethylamine (PEA) that may increase tyrosine that increases dopamine in your brain supporting the pleasure and rewards system of your brain. PEA is often referred to as a love molecule increasing the feeling of being in love.
Cacao also contains theobromine that causes relaxation. It is also a great source of magnesium which may also improve relaxation, blood flow, oxygen flow, and muscle relaxation.
Cacao encourages the release of serotonin, phenylethylamine, and anandamide that helps to boost your mood. No wonder that sacred cacao gatherings and doing cacao in clubs are increasingly popular. With cacao, you may enjoy yourself without hangovers and side effects.
Nootropic Benefits of Cacao
Chocolate is delicious. No wonder that you are excited about the potential health benefits of cacao. However, you may wonder if it’s true or just smart marketing.
You will be happy to learn that cacao has science-backed health and nootropic benefits. You just have to make sure that you buy quality cacao or cocoa, and eat raw or super dark chocolate.
Let’s look at the nootropic benefits of cacao, cocoa, and chocolate.
Cacao May Improve Your Learning and Memory
Cacao is rich in flavonoids. These cacao flavonoids and their metabolites are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and make their way to your hippocampus, cerebral cortex, cerebellum, striatum, and other areas of your brain that are important for memory and learning.
Cacao flavonoids communicate with signaling cascades that help to trigger gene expression and protein synthesis involved with long-term potentiation (LTP). This process helps long-term memory formation in your brain.
Cacao flavonoids may also increase cerebral blood flow. They may help to feed your mitochondria by increasing oxygen and glucose. They may also provide neuroprotection and boost your attention, processing speed, memory, and cognition.
Cacao May Boost Your Mood
As we discussed earlier, cacao may stimulate the release of endorphins in your brain – boosting your happiness. Tyrosine the precursor of dopamine, and tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, and anandamide, the bliss molecule, may provide some fantastic mood-boosting benefits as well.
A randomized, double-blind, 2012 study found that participants taking a dark chocolate drink with 500 mg of polyphenols for 30 days experienced more calmness and contentedness than those who took 250 mg or 0 mg of polyphenols. More polyphenols resulted in a better mood.
Cacao May Prevent Dementia
You’ve already learned about cacao’s amazing memory-boosting benefits. These benefits may go beyond your ability to memorize facts for school or work or remember your childhood memories. Cacao may help to reduce the risks and symptoms of dementia.
Researchers have followed 1,367 participants over 65 for 5 years to learn more about how their flavonoid intake influenced their neuroprotection and brain function. They found that a higher intake of antioxidant flavonoids resulted in a lower risk of dementia.
An 8-week, double-blind study on cognition and aging found similar results. Researchers looked at the cognition function of 90 participants with mild cognitive impairment after consuming cocoa flavonoids. Taking 990 mg or 520 mg produced better results than only 45 mg a day.
Another study on the benefits of dark chocolate compared the benefits of eating 100 g of dark chocolate with 500 mg of polyphenols and 90 g of white chocolate with no polyphenols for 15 days. They found that dark chocolate may possess benefits, but white chocolate does not.
Cacao May Reduce Stress
Polyphenols in cacao may lead to a variety of health benefits, including lower inflammation, healthier blood pressure, more balanced blood sugar, and a better mood. All of which may be compromised under high or chronic stress.
Your blood pressure may rise under stressful circumstances. So it’s important to know that cacao, cocoa, and dark chocolate may help to lower it and keep it at a healthy rate.
Cacao and cocoa are both rich in flavonoids that may help to lower your blood pressure. It has also been found that Central-American islanders who love cocoa have healthier blood pressure than their non-cocoa drinker peers.
These factors all play a role in the development of heart attacks and strokes. By lowering stress and improving these biomarkers, cacao, cocoa, and dark chocolate may help to lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Other Health Benefits of Cacao
Besides its nootropic benefits, cacao offers countless health benefits. Remember, your body is a connected whole. For a healthy brain and good cognition, it is important to be healthy in all parts of your body. Let’s look at the other, non-nootropic health benefits cacao has to offer.
Cacao May Improve Type 2 Diabetes
We all know that sugary candy, even chocolate candy, may raise your blood sugar and increase your risk of diabetes. However, cacao flavonoids may actually improve your insulin, slow carbohydrate digestion, and lower the risks and symptoms of diabetes.
Cacao May Help Weight Loss
Cacao May Better Your Skin and Teeth
Chocolate candy is not good for your teeth or skin. However, cacao may actually reduce your dental cavities due to its antibacterial and anti-enzymatic properties. It may also be hydrating and soothing for your skin contributing to a smooth and glowing appearance.
Cacao May Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Cacao is incredibly rich in antioxidants that may help to reduce inflammation and cancer growth. Research has shown that including cocoa or cocoa extract in your diet may reduce the risk of colon, liver, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer, as well as leukemia.
6 Ways to Use Cacao for Nootropic and Health Benefits
Now that you understand that cacao and cocoa may have wonderful nootropic and other health benefits to offer, you may wonder how to add cacao to your life. Read on for the best ways to use cacao and cocoa for nootropic and other health benefits.
Raw Cacao Nibs
Raw cacao nibs are basically a chopped up form of the cacao bean. They are rich in nutrients and fiber. You can buy them online or at a health food store. You may add them to your granola, cereal, smoothies, or yogurt bowl for extra flavor and health benefits.
Raw Cacao Powder
Cacao powder is a fantastic way to enjoy the nootropic and health benefits of cacao. You may find it online, health food stores, and sometimes even at your local grocery store. You may add it to your smoothies, cookies, oatmeal, cereal, salad dressing, brownies, and other recipes.
High-quality cocoa powder has similar benefits as cacao powder. You may find it at your grocery store, health food store, or online. Make sure to buy a trusted brand with quality organic cocoa. Use it the same as you would use cacao powder.
Cacao Bars, Bliss Balls, and Cookies
There is an endless number of raw, paleo, and keto cacao bars, balls, cookies, and other healthy dessert products you may find at health food stores. You may search the internet for delicious, healthy cacao recipes to boost your health while enjoying a dessert.
Superfood Mixes and Protein Powders
You may find many superfood mixes and protein powder mixes on the market that is made with raw cacao or high-quality cocoa powder. Make sure to buy from trusted, organic brands to receive the best health benefits.
Cacao Nootropic Supplements
For specific nootropic benefits, we recommend that you take cacao nootropic supplements. You may find specific cacao supplements and nootropic stacks made with cacao for specific benefits online. Make sure to buy from a trusted brand with quality ingredients.
Dosage of Cacao as a Nootropic
To achieve cognitive benefits, the recommended dose of cacao flavanols as a nootropic is 500 to 1,000 mg a day. However, figuring out the flavanol levels of the cacao or cocoa products, including dark chocolate can be tricky.
Only a few manufacturers list flavanol amounts on the labels. Cacao powder and cacao nibs are usually your safest bet with the highest level of flavanols and best cognitive and health benefits.
However, cacao can be bitter, and some may prefer cacao capsules over cacao nibs, raw chocolate, or super dark chocolate. Cacao capsules may provide you with all the health benefits, even if you don’t love the dark flavor of cacao.
If you are looking for nootropic and health benefits from cacao, forget about milk chocolate. Milk interferes with the absorption of the antioxidants in cacao and negates its benefits.
Side Effects of Cacao as a Nootropic
Cacao is generally safe for most people. However, there may be some potential side-effects and concerns you have to consider.
Cacao is a stimulant. This means that eating or taking cacao products later in the day or close to bedtime may interfere with your sleep. It is a safer bet to use cacao earlier in the day, especially if you have trouble sleeping after eating.
Phenylethylamine in cacao and chocolate may lead to migraines in some people. Cacao and dark chocolate may also result in acne, skin issues, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), digestion troubles, and inflammation.
Eating too much dark chocolate may also result in weight gain. It is important that you don’t overeat. Taking lower-calorie cacao options, such as cacao nibs, cacao powder, and cacao supplements may be better if you are trying to lose weight or concerned about your weight.
It may interfere with or cause adverse reactions when taking certain medications.. Cacao may also inhibit the absorption of calcium and lead to issues in those with kidney disease. Always talk to your doctor for safety and to make sure that cacao is right for you as a nootropic.
Available Forms of Cacao as a Nootropic
There are many cacao and chocolate products on the market. It can be confusing to navigate the shelves for nootropic benefits.
As we discussed earlier, milk chocolate doesn’t have any health or nootropic benefits due to its milk content. The more a cacao product is processed, the less nootropic or health benefits it may have. The same is true for white chocolate as well.
For nootropic and health benefits, it is the best to go with raw cacao beans, raw cacao powder, and raw cacao nibs. Raw chocolate and dark chocolate are also excellent options. Remember, the darker is better, so choose chocolate with 85% or more cacao or cocoa.
There is also an increasing number of superfood and protein powder blends on the market made with cacao. This is a smart way to benefit from other superfoods, nootropic foods, or quality protein along with cacao. Always select trusted brands with quality ingredients.
You may also choose pure cocoa powder. However, stay away from Dutch-processed chocolate or cocoa. It is too processed to have any benefits.
Unsweetened baking chocolate may also be an option. Though it has much fewer flavonols than dark chocolate, it still has some benefits.
If you don’t like the taste of cacao or dark chocolate, you may find cacao supplements with cacao flavonol extracts from fresh cacao beans. Look for high-quality supplements for trusted brands to receive the best nootropic and health benefits.
Other Nootropics to Take with Cacao
If you are looking for brain-boosting, mood-enhancing, and cognition-supporting benefits, you may want to take a variety of nootropics. Here are a few nootropics you may want to consider taking along with cacao.
Turmeric is a potent nootropic, spice, and superfood. With the help of its active ingredient, curcumin, it may alleviate inflammation and pain, and reduce cognitive decline. Paired with cacao, they may reduce brain inflammation and boost your memory.
Lion’s mane is a nootropic and a superfood mushroom/. It may help the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) for brain cell regeneration. It may benefit those with cognitive impairment and overall cognition. Paired with cacao, it may help to boost your memory and cognition.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that is needed for the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It may improve cognition, reduce stress, and lower sleep issues. Paired with cacao, it may boost your mood and cognitions effectively.
CBD oil is a fantastic nootropic with neuroprotective qualities. It may boost your mood and mental health, reduce depression and anxiety, lower your stress levels, reduce inflammation, and reduce cognitive decline. Paired with cacao, it may further boost your mood and cognition.
L-theanine is a highly reliable nootropic. It’s an amino acid that may help you to reduce stress, focus, be creative, feel calm, and sleep better. Paired with cacao, it may fight stress, improve your cognition, increase your memory, and better your sleep effectively.
Melatonin is a great nootropic that may help to improve your sleep cycle and reduce symptoms of seasonal depression. If cacao disturbs your sleep, melatonin may help to calm your brain and help you get a good night sleep.
Combining nootropics is a fine art. Start with a low dose at first to make sure that a certain combination works for you without causing side effects. You may benefit from nootropic stacks instead of a DIY combination. Always talk to your doctor before using or pairing nootropics.
Everyone loves chocolate, and I bet you are excited to know that cacao, cocoa, and dark chocolate possesses some fantastic nootropic and health benefits. In fact, you just received the green light to consume more cacao for its nootropic effects.
Cacao, cocoa, and dark chocolate are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids protecting your brain and overall health. Cacao may lower inflammation, reduce the risk of disease, improve cerebral circulation, better your memory, boost your mood, and increase your cognitive health.
It is important that you choose raw cacao, high-quality organic cocoa, or very dark (85% or more) dark chocolate to receive its health benefits. For nootropic benefits, we recommend that you select high-quality cacao nootropic supplements or nootropics stacks.
Follow this guide as you dive deeper into cacao as a nootropic. Selecting the right cacao and nootropic brands with high-quality ingredients may help you to boost your brain and overall health.
Kat Gál is a professional holistic health writer who helps health, wellness and nutrition businesses to market their products and services through quality online content. Kat is a multi-passionate writer, world traveler, nomad, runner, and cat-person. Reach out if you are looking for amazing blog content at katgalwriter.com. Check out nobsfreelancer.com for freelance writing tips.