Benefits Of Cocoa
By Chef K.T. Murphy
The Incas were the first ones to concoct a deliciously cold, brown drink made from the
cocoa tree. They even went so far as to call it the drink of gods because of its many health benefits. When the Spaniards got their hands on the drink in 1582, they added the heat factor, bringing even more of cocoa’s health benefits to the surface.
In fact, cocoa may be the second healthiest known element you can consume, after water. Some of its better-known powers are its great ability to improve memory, uplift your mood, reduce heart disease, boost immunity, shed fat, and pump you up with energy.
Read on to find out more about all the amazing health benefits of cocoa.
Loaded with Antioxidants
A Cornell study carried out on the amounts of antioxidants in cocoa has shown that the antioxidant concentration in cocoa is almost double that of red wine, triple that of green tea, and quadruple that of black tea. Professor Chang Yong Lee, leader of that study, added that the “hot” in hot chocolate plays a significant role as well, since the number of antioxidants released increases when cocoa is heated up.
Antioxidants are miracle workers in our bodies. They protect our cells from premature degeneration caused by exposure to heat, moisture, light, air, and the inescapable factor of time. Antioxidants help protect our cells from these harmful factors, allowing us feel and look younger for longer. They also enhance cognitive function, boost concentration and memory, and increase blood flow to the brain. This means that drinking hot cocoa in moderation can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and many other aggressive diseases in the brain and elsewhere in the body.
Rich in Flavonoids
Flavonoids are a group of plant chemicals (phytonutrients) found in vegetables and fruits. They help process nitric oxide, a molecule produced by your body to help its abundant amount of cells successfully communicate with each other. Studies show that the high levels of flavonoids in cocoa can help with the following:
- Improve blood flow
- Lower blood pressure
- Act as a blood thinner to prevent blood platelets from forming clots
Less Fat than a Candy Bar
We all know how dark chocolate is chock full of health benefits, mainly as a result of its concentrated levels of antioxidants. But the presence of saturated fats in a chocolate bar far outweighs the benefits. Cocoa, on the other hand, has less fat per serving since it’s simply cocoa powder dissolved in hot milk or water. Even if you add one to two teaspoons of sugar to your hot cocoa, it would still contain less fat than a bar of chocolate.
Helps with Weight Loss
One piece of advice you’ll always hear from all dietitians is to drink a glass of water before meals if you’re looking to lose weight. But the good news is that you can replace that glass of water with some hot cocoa. Just add one teaspoon to your coffee cup, or to some milk, 10 – 15 minutes before your next meal and that will do the trick.
Cocoa contains MAO (Monoamine oxidase) inhibitors, which help shrink your appetite. Even though these inhibitors can be found in many weight loss products, the exceptional thing about cocoa’s MAO is that when digested by the body they release the hormone serotonin, the chemical responsible for maintaining a balanced mood in the brain.
A Great Mood Enhancer
As mentioned above, cocoa increases the release of serotonin in the brain. But it does much more than that. It improves your level of euphoria, stabilizes your overall mood, and decreases your risk of depression. It also releases dopamine, which controls the part of the brain that makes you feel good when you achieve any type of goal—especially if you’re given a reward—and helps you to move toward more similar goals.
Another mood enhancer that Cocoa contains is anandamide, which creates a feeling of bliss and is therefore referred to as the bliss molecule. Yet another mood improver found in cocoa is PEA (phenethylamine), which releases endorphins and other gratifying neurochemicals into the brain, similar to those released when you fall in love or engage in sexual activity.
Protects Your Heart
One of the many types of antioxidants found in cocoa is flavanols, which protect against cardiovascular diseases. They also help improve blood circulation, which, in turn, can reduce the risk of strokes.
Another type of miracle-working antioxidant found in cocoa is polyphenols. Polyphenols are found in tea, apples, red wine, and onions. But of all the foods that contain polyphenols, cocoa has the highest content. Furthermore, none of the other sources even come close to having the other beneficial values that cocoa has.
Polyphenols work diligently at reducing LDL levels. LDL is the “bad cholesterol” in the blood. Elevated LDL levels are considered to be a crucial factor in increasing the chances of heart attacks and strokes. Polyphenols also help inhibit the hardening of the arteries by preventing blood platelets from clotting. In fact, cocoa has the same effect as aspirin. Drinking cocoa on a regular basis has been proven to enhance the overall functioning of veins and arteries.
A Swiss study carried out in 2009 shows that after drinking cocoa for just 2 weeks, the activity of microbes naturally found in the gut improved significantly. In addition, there was a boost in metabolism and the stress hormone, cortisol, decreased.
They also discovered that the fiber in cocoa stimulated the body’s digestive enzymes, while improving both bowel and kidney functions. Since cocoa also contains a fair amount of sulfur, it enhances the capacity of both the liver and pancreas.
A Final Note
Despite all of its health benefits, drinking cocoa in excess can lead to serious health problems. For example, it may cause insomnia or heart palpitations to those who are sensitive to caffeine. Cocoa may also interfere with medications, such as those prescribed for asthma, depression, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Talk to your doctor about how much cocoa is safe for you. Remember that moderation is the key to avoid tipping the balance and thereby losing all of cocoa’s amazing health benefits..
All the best, Good Food makes For Better Decisions.