Chocolate is one of the world's most known guilty pleasures. Many people know that cocoa is one of the main ingredients in chocolate. However, many people do not know about the health benefits that this food provides. Continue reading to learn more about the health benefits of cocoa.
Health Benefits of Cocoa
Antioxidants are compounds that can help protect the body from free radicals. These are compounds that damage the cells when left unchecked. The body is exposed to them when it converts the food that is eaten into energy, otherwise known as metabolism. In addition to that, the body is also exposed to them from outer sources like air pollution, cigarette smoke, and even UV light from the sun.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring antioxidants that are found in fruits, vegetables, chocolate, and wine. Cocoa is one of the best sources of them and contains many flavonols, a group of polyphenols. However, due to many cocoa products being processed, it can lose its beneficial properties. In fact, one study shows that when it is treated with alkaline to reduce the bitter taste, there can be a 60% decrease in flavonol content. To avoid this, try to find chocolate or cocoa powder that has been processed the least. To get chocolate that has been processed the least, try to find dark chocolate that is 70% cocoa or more.
May Lower Blood Pressure
In addition to their antioxidant properties, cocoa may also lower blood pressure regardless of if it is powdered or in dark chocolate. This could come from the flavanols found in cocoa. One study that reviewed the general health of cocoa showed that these are thought to improve nitric oxide levels in the blood which can then enhance the function of blood vessels and then help reduce blood pressure.
One review looked at over 35 experiments where patients were given 0.05-3.7 ounces of cocoa products. This review found that cocoa had a small but significant effect of reducing 2 mmHg in the blood pressure.
This review also found that this effect was greater in people who already had higher blood pressure. In addition to that, the review found that the effects were also greater in older people vs younger people.
Effects on Mood
Another one of the health benefits of cocoa is it may have the ability to improve mood and some symptoms of depression. There have been many studies that back this theory up. One study in pregnant women found that those who ate chocolate more frequently saw reduced stress and improved mood in their babies. Another study in older men found that eating chocolate was linked with better overall health and improved well-being. Lastly, when drinking high polyphenol cocoa, the participants of one study reported feeling more calm and content vs those who did not. These studies were done with any chocolate, but it is best to choose darker chocolate due to the sugar that is in the other ones.
Many people automatically assume that because chocolate is a sweet treat, it will cause them to gain weight. This is true when taken in excess, however, it may help you control your weight in moderation. In fact, a population study conducted back in 2015 analyzed people who ate chocolate more than people who didn't. They found that those who ate it more frequently had a lower BMI than those who ate it less. The group who ate chocolate more also were eating more calories and fat too.
There have been other studies that show that chocolate can increase your weight. However, these studies did not differentiate between the chocolate that was consumed. This is important because milk chocolate and white chocolate do not have the same effects and benefits that dark chocolate does.
Cocoa may also have antibacterial properties. These can possibly benefit your skin and teeth. One study, in rats that were infected with oral bacteria, found that when given cocoa extract, there was a significant reduction of tooth cavities compared to those who were given just water. Even though this looks promising, there are no human studies yet, and many cocoa products that humans consume have a lot of sugar which can counter these effects.
While there are no studies for cocoa's oral health benefits, there are for its skin benefits. One study found that long-term ingestion of cocoa could contribute to sun protection, and help improve the texture and hydration of your skin.
Including Cocoa In Your Diet
There are many ways to get cocoa into your diet. The most common is through the darker chocolate. Other ways include hot chocolate. Try this recipe for a cinnamon hot chocolate that has more benefits due to the cinnamon. For more on the health benefits of cinnamon, check out this article here. Another option for cocoa in your diet is Dates and Cocoa Truffles to get some fruit too. Yummly also has a recipe that uses cocoa powder in chili to get some of the benefits without the sugar that is in the sweets.
There are many health benefits of cocoa. However, it is important to remember that not all cocoa is created equally. Try to find cocoa that has been processed less and choose dark chocolate over white and milk chocolate.