Many people crave chocolate but avoid it because they're under the impression that it's fattening and unhealthy. Although a lot of chocolate products are unhealthy and calorie dense, it's due to the addition of substances such as sugar and not to the cocoa itself.
In fact, cocoa powder, which comes from the cacao bean, is highly nutritious and can provide numerous health benefits.
Cocoa Nutritional Facts
Cocoa Antidepressant Effects
Cocoa may also provide antidepressant benefits as it 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 (UMHS) 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.
UMHS also says that cocoa may boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter that antidepressants target in order to boost overall happiness levels.
Cocoa and Antioxidants
In addition, hot cocoa contains more antioxidants per cup than a serving of red wine or tea, and ScienceDaily 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 the antioxidant-containing flavonoids are mostly removed from many commercial cocoa powders because of their bitter taste. In order for you to obtain the most health-boosting benefits, consider buying raw cocoa powder, which is minimally processed.
Additional Cocoa Benefits
In addition to the possible health benefits of cocoa powder, UMHS says that cocoa may lower LDL (bad) 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.
A study published in 2015 by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effects of cocoa flavanol on cognitive function in older people. This study found that regular consumption of cocoa flavanol can help maintain healthy cognitive function as a person ages.
Source of Caffeine and Oxalates
Despite all of the possible benefits, UMHS 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. If you're prone to kidney stones, you should avoid consuming cocoa and chocolate.
- USDA National Nutrition Database: Cocoa, Dry Powder, Unsweetened
- 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
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study:A Randomized Controlled Trial
- BluePlanet GreenPeople: La Finestra Sul Cielo Cocoa Powder
- FDA: Access Data: Dietary Fiber