It's never a surprise when we hear chocolate listed among most people's favourite foods. It's certainly at the top of our list! It's smooth, creamy, sweet... all the characteristics of a fantastic treat.
Make cocoa and chocolate part of your healthy eating regimen
Even more than simply a sweet treat, if you choose your chocolate wisely (dark!), it's loaded with amazing health benefits. Cocoa is truly a superfood. Rich in antioxidants and proven to improve skin quality, heart and blood vessel health as well as neurodegenerative diseases, it also has the added benefit of elevating mood – it makes you happy!
Did you know that the average American consumes roughly 12 pounds of chocolate each year, and over $75 billion is spent annually worldwide on chocolate? That's a lot of chocolate!
And, while there's a whole lot of chocolate being consumed, it's important to understand that not all chocolate is created equal. The potential health benefits of processed, highly sweetened chocolate are slim to none, but, good news: the health benefits of dark chocolate are so numerous as to be pretty darned impressive!
10 benefits of eating cocoa and dark chocolate
Cocoa has been used in medicine and body rituals for centuries throughout the world. It originated in the Americas and was brought to Europe with colonization. Among the benefits listed below, cocoa can be helpful in reducing fatigue, weight management, stimulating the nervous system, and improving digestive function.
Cocoa is Good For the Skin.
The abundance of antioxidant properties in cocoa flavonols are good for skin health.
A study on 24 healthy women who consumed high amounts of cocoa flavanols concluded that cocoa flavanols provide protection from UV rays, improve blood circulation, and contribute to skin hydration, helping keep it soft and less flakey.
Another study found that cocoa flavanols improve blood circulation and increase oxygen concentration in the skin.
Amazingly, a different study looked at 11 smokers and found that the consumption of flavanols can actually reverse skin damage caused by smoking.
High in Antioxidants: Providing Protection from Disease-Causing Free Radicals
Antioxidants help stimulate the oxygen-based radicals in the body. Polyphenols in cocoa are antioxidants that prevent free radicals from damaging cells.
According to a recent comparative medical study, cocoa has a higher antioxidant capacity than red wine, green and black tea.
Beneficial to Brain Health
Cocoa powder is rich in flavonoids that may help you maintain a healthy brain. It provides valuable neuroprotective elements that can improve brain health and cognitive function.
Flavonoids are known to contribute to brain health by protecting, enhancing function, and creating new neurons. They can also reverse neuron damage in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Flavonoids, primarily catechin and epicatechin, cross the blood-brain barrier and localize in areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning, which is where most neurodegeneration occurs. Studies have concluded that consumption of cocoa can increase blood flow in the brain as well as improve working memory in healthy adults.
Stabilizes Blood Pressure
Cocoa has the capacity to stabilize blood pressure. The flavonoid in cocoa beans not only lowers the blood pressure but improves the elasticity of veins and blood vessels. Additionally, the valuable antioxidants in cocoa increase the stimulation of nitric oxide to control the exerted pressure of blood vessels.
A recent study of 15 healthy adults identified that the higher the concentration of flavanols, the greater the effect of cocoa on reducing blood pressure. For those who consumed dark chocolate, with its high concentration of flavonols, saw a significant impact compared to those who consumed white chocolate (devoid of beneficial flavonols).
May Help Prevent Heart Disease
In studies conducted at Cleveland Clinic, the research has identified that flavanols have a very positive effect on heart health. The powerful antioxidant helps lower blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart as well as the brain.
Dark chocolates flavanols can also help make blood platelets less sticky and able to clot, which reduces the risk of blood clots and stroke. The flavonoids present in cocoa are effective at helping to decrease blood clotting (platelet activity and accumulation), therefore preventing the formation of blockages within blood vessels.
Another study published in 2015 followed the health of over 20,000 people for 11 years. This study concluded that “cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events” and that “there does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk.”
A pilot study on 48 healthy men and women revealed that consumption of cocoa has an impact on mood.
After review of several studies, it was shown that there's an undeniable effect of chocolate on enhancing mood. Not only does cocoa or dark chocolate have an impact on improving mood, but it also has the capacity to relieve mental fatigue.
Potential Prevention of Cancer
Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) is an enzyme present in normal cells that can lead to cancer, if in excess. Cocoa flavanols and procyanidins reduce ODC activity, therefore reducing the risk of developing tumors, and can also kill colon cancer cells.
A pilot study revealed that cocoa also inhibits the growth and reproduction of prostate cancer cells, but not the growth of normal cells.
It's been shown that there can be a reduction in overall cancer risk through the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa.
Cocoa Improves Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Studies have shown that consumption of polyphenols can help improve diabetes. Cocoa polyphenols, especially from dark chocolate, improve glucose breakdown, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin resistance.
Adding cocoa-based products to the diet has shown significant effects on insulin resistance and hypermetabolism of glucose. A study on 10 diabetic patients showed that consumption of cocoa counteracts blood vessel dysfunction caused by diabetes and improves endothelial function.
Helps Improve Cholesterol Profile
The cocoa butter found in dark chocolate contains equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. While stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat, research shows that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol. Yes, the palmitic acid in dark chocolate can increase cholesterol levels, but it makes up such a small portion of the fat in dark chocolate as to have little or no negative effect.
A 2009 study published in Southern Medical Journal looked at the effects of dark chocolate on 28 healthy subjects. The researchers found that just one week of dark chocolate consumption improved lipid profiles and decreased platelet reactivity for both men and women while reducing inflammation in women.
Check out these tidbits:
- Dark chocolate’s cocoa polyphenols may be involved in cholesterol control.
- Three-week consumption of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate increased HDL (good) cholesterol.
- 15-day consumption of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate resulted in total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol decreases of 6.5 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
- Seven-day consumption of regular dark chocolate resulted in a 6 percent decrease of LDL cholesterol and a 9 percent increase of HDL cholesterol.
Cocoa has long been used as a remedy for skin conditions such as burns and cuts. While there is not a lot of evidence for the topical use of cocoa products, a review of several studies showed that it promoted the regeneration of skin cells in pigs.
Oddly enough, pharmaceutical companies too have been on to the healing powers of cocoa for quite some time, incorporating cocoa extracts for its wound-healing and therapeutic properties in the manufacture of medicinal products.
Scientists consider cocoa extract as an active agent helping to prevent the growth of infectious bacteria.
Cocoa is effective for help in disinfecting wounds and protecting against harmful UV rays.
So, as you can see, there's plenty of evidence out there to confirm that a daily dose of high quality, dark chocolate does a body good!
Get your cocoa flavonols, feel better! #bean2bar #beantobar #tastethedifference