Many people crave chocolate and avoid it because they are under the impression that it is fattening and unhealthy. Although a lot of chocolate products are unhealthy and calories dense, it is due to the addition of substances such as sugar and not to the cocoa itself. In fact, cocoa powder, which comes from the cocoa bean, is highly nutritious, and it can provide numerous health benefits.
Cocoa Nutritional Facts
A 2 tbsp. serving of cocoa contains just 25 calories and 1.5 g of fat. It also provides you with 3.6 g of fiber, which is 14 percent of the daily value, and 8 percent of the daily value of iron and 14 percent of the daily value of magnesium.
Cocoa Antidepressant Effects
According to Elson Hass in his book “Staying Healthy With Nutrition,” cocoa may provide antidepressant benefits. He explains that cocoa contains the substance phenethylamine, which is a neurotransmitter found in the brain that acts as a mood elevator and natural antidepressant.The University of Michigan Health System (UMIM) states that cocoa may also have the ability to boost endorphins, which act as natural “happy” opiates and are responsible for the highs that are often felt after exercising, laughing, having sex or winning the lottery. Finally, UMIM says that cocoa may boost serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that antidepressants target in order to boost overall happiness levels.
Cocoa and Antioxidants
Cocoa also contains approximately 43.6 mg of flavonoids per gram. Flavonoids are part of a powerful group of antioxidants known as polyphenols, and according to Medical News Today, cocoa is one of the highest polyphenol-containing foods. In addition, hot cocoa contains more antioxidants per cup than a serving of red wine or tea, and Science Daily explains it may even be the healthiest choice of the three. Science Daily also states that drinking cocoa may help to fight cancer, heart disease and aging through its antioxidant boosting effect. Medical News Today warns however that most commercial cocoa powders have the antioxidant-containing flavonoids removed because they taste bitter; therefore, in order to obtain the health boosting benefits, consider buying raw cocoa powder, which is a minimally processed cocoa powder.
Additional Cocoa Benefits
In addition to the above possible health benefits of cocoa powder, UMIM says that cocoa may lower LDL cholesterol, reduce the risk of blood clots, increase blood flow to the arteries, lower high blood pressure, boost cognitive performance and provide essential minerals such as calcium and potassium.
Despite all of the possible benefits, UMIM warns that cocoa contains caffeine, which may have negative effects, such as insomnia, on caffeine-sensitive individuals. It also contains oxalates, and increased oxalate levels can contribute to the formation of kidney stones; therefore if you are prone to kidney stones, cocoa and chocolate should not be consumed.
- USDA National Nutrition Database: Cocoa, Dry Powder, Unsweetened
- "Staying Healthy With Nutrition"; Elson M. Hass, MD; 2006
- University of Michigan Health Systems: Healing Food Pyramid: Dark Chocolate
- Medical News Today: Re-Emphasiis That Natural Cocoa Powder Has High Antioxidant Content
- Science Daily: Hot Cocoa Tops Red Wine And Tea In Antioxidants; May Be Healthier Choice