Cacao nibs are small pieces of crushed cacao beans — or cocoa beans — that have a bitter, chocolatey flavor.
They’re produced from beans derived from the Theobroma cacao tree, also known as the cocoa tree. Cocoa beans are dried after harvesting, then fermented and cracked to produce small, dark bits — or cacao nibs.
Some cacao nibs are roasted while others are not. Unroasted cacao nibs are called raw cacao nibs.
These rich, chocolatey nibs are loaded with nutrients and powerful plant compounds that have been shown to benefit health in many ways.
Though small in size, cacao nibs are packed with an impressive amount of nutrients.
They’re amongst the least processed cocoa products on the market and substantially lower in sugar than other chocolate products, making them a healthier alternative for chocolate lovers.
Here are some of the super benefits of cacao nibs.
In my opinion, this is the best reason to eat cacao nibs or dark chocolate in general. Antioxidants help fight off free radical damage in the body which can cause DNA damage, premature aging, and even cancers. Think of antioxidants as firefighters putting out ablaze. And cacao is one of the highest sources of antioxidants.
There is a huge amount of fiber in just a one-ounce serving of cacao nibs. This can help control your blood pressure and blood glucose levels. This fiber can also help lower blood cholesterol as well as helping keep bowel movements regular.
Chocolate and cacao help stimulate the brain into releasing neurotransmitters that can trigger feel-good hormones. One of those unique neurotransmitters released by cacao is phenylethylamine. This “love drug” releases endorphins giving us alertness, contentment and a better sense of well-being.
Iron is necessary for red blood cell production so as iron-rich food, cacao can help fight anemic symptoms. You can get 6 percent of your recommended daily iron intake per ounce from raw cacao nibs.
Iron deficiency has side effects like fatigue and malaise. Thankfully, iron is abundant in cacao! To better ensure proper absorption, pair it with a good vitamin C source like a piece of fruit.
The potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of cacao nibs may have a positive impact on immune health.
Research shows that cocoa has beneficial effects on your immune system. For example, cocoa flavonoids help decrease inflammation, which can help improve overall immune response.
Cocoa may also improve the function of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), an important part of the immune system located throughout your intestines. The GALT contains approximately 70% of all immune cells in your body.
Animal studies have demonstrated that cocoa may have protective effects against food allergies by positively impacting the GALT.
Cocoa-enriched diets have been shown to decrease sensitivity to oral antigens — toxins and allergens — by enhancing the function of a special layer in your intestines that helps protect against food allergy and maintain gut health.
A study in rats found that a cocoa-enriched diet inhibited the release of antibodies and inflammatory molecules that lead to serious allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, by strengthening the immune system.
These results suggest that cocoa products like cacao nibs may be particularly helpful for those with food allergies and other immune conditions. However, more research in this area is needed.
Cacao consumption may benefit those with blood sugar control issues.
Human studies have shown that cocoa can help regulate blood sugar control and improve sensitivity to insulin, a hormone that helps cells absorb blood sugar.
A study in 60 people found that those who ate about 1 ounce (25 grams) of high-polyphenol dark chocolate daily for 8 weeks experienced greater reductions in fasting blood sugar and HbA1c (a marker of long-term blood sugar control) compared to a placebo group.
What’s more, a recent review of 14 studies in over 500,000 people showed that intake of 2 servings of chocolate per week was associated with a 25% reduced risk of diabetes.
Cacao nibs may be one of the best cocoa products to choose for blood sugar regulation, as they’re high in blood-sugar stabilizing antioxidants and do not contain any added sugar.
Cacao nibs are substantially lower in sugar than other chocolate products and provide an array of powerful health benefits.
They’re widely available in stores and online and can be easily incorporated into a variety of both sweet and savory recipes.
Still, keep in mind that cacao nibs have a rich flavor and much more bitter taste than even the darkest of chocolates, as they contain no added sweeteners.
For this reason, sweetness may have to be adjusted when swapping regular chocolate for cacao nibs in recipes.
Here are some ways to add cacao nibs to your diet: