Very few food items can delight the human tastebuds like chocolate. Whether it is taken alone as sweets, in a liquid/Semi-liquid beverage, or infused into other food items such as cakes, breads, biscuits, and other pastries, it’s always a delicious treat. And as you may already know, the key ingredients in chocolates are derived from cocoa.
Cocoa is a delicious and versatile agricultural product that has been around people for over 5,000 years. Long before the first chocolate was made, the ancient Greeks had other nutritional uses for it, going as far as labeling it the food of the gods (Theobroma). The Aztecs also concocted drinks with ground cocoa beans, often drinking them during festivals and special occasions. But now, cocoa is primarily used in producing chocolates and cocoa powder.
Beyond its exquisite taste, cocoa boasts a plethora of health benefits thanks to the numerous nutritional and medicinal compounds present in it. Below are some of its health benefits.
Cocoa is a good source of mineral nutrients.
Powdered cocoa, without additives, is chock-full of mineral nutrients, such as iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and fiber. In addition, studies show that it contains other nutrients as well. A report from WebMD indicates that a quarter cup of unsweetened cocoa powder contains about 12 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of Fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fat.
Stress relief and improvement on glucose homeostasis
Cocoa is rich in antioxidants, particularly polyphenol compounds that help relieve oxidative stress in the body. Antioxidants also protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable molecules in the body that are destructive to cells. These molecules can lead to prolonged cell damage and contribute to chronic disease development. Healthy cocoa consumption can help prevent that.
Plus, antioxidants have been proven to be good for maintaining youthful skin and promoting overall longevity.
In addition, cocoa contains procyanidins that improve glucose homeostasis by slowing down the rate of carbohydrate digestion and absorption in the gut. These compounds inhibit the production of the enzymes that quicken the digestion of lipids and carbohydrates.
Cardiovascular health protection
Consuming cocoa products, particularly unsweetened cocoa powder and dark chocolates, positively affects heart health. Flavanols present in cocoa beans are said to improve nitric oxide levels in the blood, which helps lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
In addition, cocoa consumption also helps to reduce unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels in the body and produces blood-thinning effects similar to aspirin. As a result, it can help improve your cardiovascular system’s strength, decreasing the risks of cardiac arrests and strokes.
It’s almost impossible to keep an unpleasant demeanor while eating sweetened chocolates. Indulging in chocolate should trigger the release of endorphins, commonly known as “feel-good hormones.” So, a moderate serving of dark chocolate can be a potent mood-lifting elixir.
But aside from its exquisite taste, cocoa contains chemical compounds that produce anti-depressant effects. It contains phenylethylamine and serotonin precursors, which are associated with improved mood and reduced symptoms of clinical depression.
Reduced risk of diabetes
Flavonoids in cocoa are great for boosting insulin sensitivity, which increases the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation. This effect creates an inverse relationship between cocoa consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes development.
However, this particular benefit has a higher likelihood with unsweetened cocoa. You may not get significant results with sweet chocolates — the added sugars and fats in the product may counteract these benefits. As such, to enjoy this particular health benefit of cocoa, you should opt for cocoa powder without added sugar and fats.
Improving cognitive function
Cocoa also helps to improve mental function because it’s rich in Polyphenols that help to improve blood flow. By reducing the blood-to-brain barrier, it fosters the production of important neurons that enhance brain function.
Summarily, cocoa is a delicious food item with numerous health and nutritional benefits. But while weighing the health benefits of cocoa products, consider that not all cocoa products are created equal. Processed chocolates and other similar products often contain added sugar and unhealthy fats, which have adverse health effects when consumed in large quantities. As such, you should always go for cocoa products with high cocoa solids content and little to no added sugar or fat to get the best cocoa nutritional benefits.