Is it a fruit…is it a chocolate… no it’s a superfood!

The word ‘superfood’ has been banded about a lot over the last few months, but a South American bean, that has recently become available in the UK, truly deserves the title.

We all know we should be eating healthily, and most of us try and make an effort, but its not always that easy, especially when you’re working hard in the office or chasing round after children all day. Rather than carrot sticks and celery its often far easier to allow our taste buds the treat of a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar. A raw food from South America could soon make eating and snacking healthily a lot tastier however.

Cacao Nibs (or beans) originate in South and Central America, from the cacao tree. Whilst primarily used in the UK as an ingredient in chocolate (the basis for claims that dark chocolate has health benefits) Cacao Nibs have been used as a raw food in parts of South America for thousands of years. With the taste of chocolate, but with health benefits of a huge plate of fruit and veg, it’s easy to see why.

Cacao Nibs are used in chocolate for their taste, but by adding sugar, butter, and milk to them many of their health benefits are lost. By eating Cacao Nibs in their natural state however you can benefit from all of the food’s properties without having to sacrifice on the chocolate taste.

Cacao is packed full of goodies such as iron, fibre, calcium, vitamins B, C and E, and is particularly high in magnesium, which is important in brain and bone health and is found to be one of the most deficient major minerals in the standard UK Diet.

Chocolate has long been associated with a feel good factor and this is largely thought to be due to the abundance of natural mood enhancers found within cacao. Anandamide, known as the ‘bliss’ chemical and thought to be able to create a natural high, is found alongside Phenylethylamine, associated with the feeling of love, and the anti-depressants serotonin and tryptophan.

It is the anti-oxidant properties of the nibs that are most remarkable however. Anti-oxidants are claimed to be able to help with a whole host of problems, from heart disease to liver conditions, and their role in the maintenance of a healthy body and mind is thought to be crucial.

Tests show that cacao has the highest anti-oxidant count of any known food on earth 1,2,3 and just 50g of the nibs are seen to have an ORAC (Oxygen Free Radical Absorption Capacity - a measure of the anti-oxidant activity of a food) that is equivalent to over 3 Kg of Brussel Sprouts or over 1.25 Kg of Blueberries, a supposed superfood themselves (stats for Cacao taken from Brunswick Laboratories – seen as the Gold Standard for ORAC measurements).

In this country we’ve long associated snacking on chocolate with bad health, but Cacao Nibs could be about to change this perception for the better and you can now enjoy the taste of chocolate without feeling an ounce of guilt!

Cacao Nibs, which can be eaten raw, or used in smoothies, sprinkled over cereals and fruit, or used in cooking like chocolate chips, are now available in selected Waitrose and independent health stores under the Creative Nature label or directly from the website

Example studies and information

1/ Inhibitory effects of cocoa flavanols and procyanidin oligomers on free radical induced erythrocyte hemolysis. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2002 May;227(5):321-9

2/ Polyphenols in chocolate, which have antioxidant activity, modulate immune functions in humans in vitro. Cell Immunol. 1997 May 1;177(2):129-36

3/ Chocolate is a powerful ex vivo and in vivo antioxidant, an antiatherosclerotic agent in an animal model, and a significant contributor to antioxidants in the European and American Diets. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Oct 18;54(21):8071-6.

ORAC scores for the Top 10 Antioxidant Foods (per 100 grams)

    1) Raw cocoa powder* 95,500
1) Raw cacao nibs* 62,100
2) Roasted cocoa powder 26,000
3) Goji Berries* 25,300
4) Acai Berries* 18,500
5) Dark Chocolate 13,120
6) Prunes 5,770
7) Raisins  2,830
8) Blueberries  2,400
9) Blackberries 2,036
10) Kale  1,770