Antioxidants are compounds that help protect your cells from damage caused by an excess of molecules called free radicals.
When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, it leads to a condition known as oxidative stress that has been linked to a number of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, certain cancers, mental decline, and diabetes (6, 7).
Cacao nibs are loaded with antioxidants. These include a class of polyphenol antioxidants called flavonoids, such as epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidins.
In fact, cocoa and chocolate products have the highest flavonoid content by weight of any other food (8).
Flavonoids are associated with many health benefits. For example, research shows that people who consume diets rich in flavonoids have lower rates of heart disease, certain cancers, and mental decline (5).
Due to their high flavonoid content, cacao nibs and other cocoa products can make a significant contribution to dietary antioxidant intake.
SUMMARYCacao nibs are rich in flavonoid antioxidants, including epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidins.
Due to their powerful nutrient and antioxidant content, cacao nibs have been linked to many health benefits.
Short-term inflammation is an important part of your body’s defense system and helps protect against injury and illness.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation is harmful and has been linked to various health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes (9).
Increased production of free radicals is one possible cause of chronic inflammation. Foods high in antioxidants — such as cacao nibs — help combat this effect (10).
Cacao nibs and other cocoa products have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. For example, research shows that cocoa polyphenols can reduce the activity of the protein NF-κB, which plays a pivotal role in inflammatory processes (11).
Some human studies indicate that cocoa can reduce inflammatory markers as well.
A 4-week study in 44 men found that those who consumed 1 ounce (30 grams) of cocoa products that contained 13.9 mg per gram of polyphenols had decreased levels of inflammatory markers (14).
May boost immune health
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 (15).
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 (16).
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 (17).
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 (18).
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.
May benefit blood sugar control
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 (19).
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 (20).
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.
May improve heart health
Many studies have found that cocoa polyphenols — including catechins and anthocyanins — can benefit heart health in many ways.
Cocoa has been shown to reduce numerous heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels in human studies.
A review of 20 studies noted that consumption of flavonoid-rich cocoa products was associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure (2–3 mm Hg) over 2–18 weeks (21).
Cocoa intake has also been shown to improve blood vessel function, blood flow, and HDL (good) cholesterol while decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol and inflammation — all of which can protect against heart disease (22).
The powerful antioxidants concentrated in cacao nibs may have anticancer properties.
Cocoa antioxidants — including epicatechins and catechins — help reduce inflammation, prevent the spread of cancer cells, and induce death in certain cancer cells.
For example, studies demonstrate that cocoa-enriched diets stopped the spread of colon cancer cells and induced colon cancer cell death in rodents (24).
Additionally, population studies indicate that higher intake of flavonoid antioxidants, such as those found in cacao nibs, is associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, including ovarian and lung cancer (27, 28).
SUMMARYCacao nibs and other cocoa products may offer anti-inflammatory effects, boost your immune system, and protect against diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.