Raw Cacao Side Effects and Benefits

Updated August 2, 2022
cacao fruit with pods

Raw cacao is often considered to be cocoa's healthier cousin. While both originate from the same source - the beans of the Theobroma cacao tree - cacoa is made by simply cold pressing the beans. Making cocoa, on the other hand, generally involves much more processing. The terms cocoa and cacao are often used interchangably.

Both cocoa and cacoa are sold in many different forms. Cocoa powder is commonly found on store shelves and chocolate products made from cocoa are also widely available. Raw cacao is often sold as raw cacoa powder, cacoa nibs, or as raw cacoa beans.

Raw cacao products have become popular in many health food stores and they are often touted for their health benefits. But there have been media reports of raw cacoa dangers and side effects. Peer-reviewed studies investigating both cacao powder benefits and side effects suggest that the food is generally safe for consumption by most people.

Raw Cacao Side Effects

There are several side effects reported for this raw food. If you are worried about the impact of raw cacao in your diet, it's a good idea to discuss your concerns with a medical or nutritional professional. They may have access to additional research or information that is helpful to share. They may also be able to provide personalized recommendations based on your own health history.

However, you can also check out a few facts about raw cacao offered by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP) and other sources.

  • Cacao contains caffeine, just like coffee, which acts as a stimulant. The amount varies based on the product. Caffeine can negatively affect sleep and may affect your kidneys. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others
  • Cacao contains theobromine, a stimulant. Together with caffeine, this compound can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, abnormal heart rhythm, and heartburn.
  • Cacao may be addictive, according to an article published in Antioxid Redox Signal (ARS), but there is little research on this possible side effect. However, research has shown it does have a psychological impact on cravings.
  • Pregnant women should be cautious about consuming lots of raw cacao. According to research, too much caffeine can lead to adverse effects during pregnancy.
  • Since it is a raw food product, which means it can be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria just like any other raw food.

Benefits of Raw Cacao

Consuming raw cacao may provide several different benefits that can negate the potential side effects.

  • Cacao in its raw form contains flavanol, which according to BJCP, is shown to have positive side effects on the brain.
  • Cacao is a natural aphrodisiac. Chocolate's ability to act as an aphrodisiac has been discussed in research, but it's actually the chemicals in the raw bean that stimulate the senses and heighten feelings of joy and pleasure. According to BJCP, compounds of anandamide and phenylethylamine, "the love chemical," make the brain release dopamine during sex.
  • Cacao is packed with powerful antioxidants, notes the ARS. Antioxidants protect your DNA against damage from pollution and aging and help decrease inflammation, which is tied to many diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
  • Raw cacao contains critical essential fats. In fact, cacao is an excellent way to get heart-healthy fats into your diet.
  • Raw cacao is naturally sugar-free. Unlike the chocolate you'd buy in the baking or candy aisles of your grocery store, raw cacao contains no sugar.
  • Raw cacao might satisfy female cravings, according to ARS findings. During a woman's menstrual cycle, she may crave chocolate. This may be because chocolate, or the cacao from which it comes, contains the mineral magnesium. Many women are deficient in this nutrient.

Should You Consume Raw Cacao?

If you pay attention to popular media and websites, you may feel torn about whether raw cacao dangers are real and if cacao benefits are based on science. The answer for each individual can be tricky. The same characteristics that are beneficial in one setting (such as the powerful ability of cacao to alter the mood in a positive way), are also the same attributes other researchers label as harmful. It's easy to get swept up in the controversy.

When adding new food to your diet, it's essential to learn the benefits and side effects to make an informed decision. Since the opinions and research vary, consult with your healthcare provider if you have concerns. And if you do choose to eat this raw food, do so in moderation. Raw cacao should be a supplement to your diet, not an essential component.

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Raw Cacao Side Effects and Benefits