Health Benefits of Cacao Nibs

Cacao nibs, also known as cocoa nibs, are crumbled bits of dried cacao beans, which grow on the cacao tree. Cacao nib producers dry and crack the beans into small pieces. Cacao nibs are part of the same bean used in chocolate candy production.

Cacao beans are native to the upper African Amazon region. While they can be grown in other regions, the majority grow in a narrow belt that extends ten degrees on both sides of the equator. This includes countries like Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia, and Indonesia. 

The small size and intense chocolatey flavor of cacao nibs help give them the nickname “nature’s chocolate chips.” You can find both roasted and unroasted, or raw, cacao nibs in the health food section of many grocery stores.

Health Benefits

Cacao nibs contain many antioxidants. These antioxidants can help reduce cell damage in your body, which helps prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and cancer.

Here are some other health benefits of the nutrients in cacao nibs:

Healthy Digestion

The fiber in cacao beans promotes healthy digestion. Getting enough fiber can help soften your bowel movements, prevent hemorrhoids and help with other digestive conditions.

Heart Health

Per serving, cacao contains more heart-healthy flavonoids than red wine. These flavonoids have been linked to improved heart health.

Improved Mood

Cacao nibs contain healthy fats and other compounds that can increase the levels of the hormones serotonin and dopamine in your brain, which impacts your mood.

Lower Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

Dark chocolate, which is made from the cacao bean, may increase “good” HDL cholesterol, which can help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Reduced Heart Disease Risk

The flavonoids and potassium in cacao nibs may lower your risk of heart disease because they help reduce the stress on your cells and lower your blood pressure. 

Less Inflammation

Certain compounds in cacao nibs have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to lessen the risks of getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and depression.

Nutrition

Cacao nibs are a healthier option than the chocolate chips they often replace in recipes. These bitter, chocolatey flavored bits contain several beneficial nutrients.

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Cacao nibs are an excellent source of:

Nutrients per Serving

Two tablespoons of cacao nibs contain:

Cacao nibs may be a healthier alternative to chocolate chips in recipes, but it’s still a good idea to limit how many desserts you include in your diet. Cookies and other sweets usually contain a great deal of sugar and unhealthy fats.

Like other forms of cacao beans, cacao nibs contain a measurable amount of caffeine and can produce the same side effects.

How to Prepare Cacao Nibs

Both sweet and savory recipes can include cacao nibs. 

You can roast raw cacao nibs at home or use them in an unroasted state. Roasted cacao nibs are less bitter, so you may need less sweetener to add balance to the flavor of recipes that call for cacao nibs. 

Cacao nibs add a punch of chocolatey bitterness to recipes that use chocolate in other forms. For example, you can enhance chocolate bark recipes by adding a small amount of cacao nibs. 

Here are a few other ways to use this healthy chocolate candy alternative:

  • Add cacao nibs to oatmeal, trail mixes, and granola.
  • Use them in place of chocolate chips in cookie and brownie recipes.
  • Add them to a smoothie. 
  • Use them as a topping for an ice cream sundae.
  • Blend them into Mexican mole sauces.
  • Eat them on their own as a quick snack.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 17, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Antioxidants and Redox Signaling: “Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease.”

Centers for Disease Control: “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

European Journal of Cancer: “Role of oxygen free radicals in cancer development.”

Harvard Health Blog: “Your brain on chocolate.”

Harvard Women’s Health Watch: “Foods that fight inflammation.”

National Geographic: “Love Water for Chocolate.”

Wexner School of Medicine, The Ohio State University: “Myth or fact? Wine, chocolate good for heart health.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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