Health Benefits of Cocoa
Health benefits of cocoa include relief from blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, constipation, diabetes, bronchial asthma, cancer, and chronic fatigue syndrome and neurodegenerative diseases. It is beneficial for quick wound healing, skin care and helps to improve cardiovascular health, brain health. It also helps in treating copper deficiency. It possesses mood-enhancing properties and exerts protective effects against neurotoxicity.
What is cocoa?
Cocoa bean is the fermented seed of cacao tree, Latin name Theobroma cacao which means “Food of the Gods”. Cocoa is a native of Amazon region and as the meaning suggests, historically, cocoa was considered a very important crop in Central and South America. In fact, the beans of cocoa were so prized that the native tribes used them as a currency. The cacao tree stands about 12-25 feet tall and grows naturally in the tropical climate.
The fruit of cocoa tree i.e. the pod is full of sweet pulp enfolding a cluster of about 20-40 cacao seeds. Today, cocoa is produced across the world with about forty percent of the harvesting done in Cote d’Ivoire, along with Indonesia, Ghana, Brazil, Nigeria and Cameroon contributing in the production. Along with its well established role in the manufacturing of chocolate, the healing and medicinal benefits of cocoa have been appreciated since the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations.
Cocoa and chocolate are diverse terminologies. Cocoa refers to the low-fat constituent of the finely ground cocoa beans. These ground cocoa beans, known as cocoa liquor or cocoa mass also contains cocoa butter which is a non-dairy, naturally occurring fat present in the cocoa beans. About 50-60% of cocoa liquor consists of cocoa butter.
Cocoa- Nutritional facts
Cocoa is rich in minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, copper and manganese. It is also a good source of selenium, potassium, zinc and provides carbohydrates, protein and dietary fiber as well. In addition to this, cholesterol content in cocoa is almost negligible. Cocoa contains cocoa butter which is a mixture of monounsaturated fat i.e. oleic acid and saturated fats namely, stearic acid and palmitic acid.
Cocoa- A lot more than just a guilty pleasure!
Health benefits of cocoa
Cocoa offers anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant qualities and has demonstrated affirmative effects in imparting numerous health benefits.
Blood pressure: Flavonoid-rich cocoa aids in lowering blood pressure and improving the elasticity of blood vessels. Research studies conducted in this regard have shown positive changes in the systolic and diastolic blood pressure as a consequence of consuming cocoa based products instead of black and green tea. These favorable changes attribute to the presence of antioxidants in cocoa that stimulates the production of nitric oxide which helps in keeping the blood vessels relaxed. This further helps in maintaining a healthy circulatory system.
Antioxidant capacity: A comparative research study has made it evident that cocoa exhibits highest antioxidative activity as against black tea, green tea and red wine. Antioxidant helps to neutralize the oxygen free radicals present in the body. In addition to this, cocoa is abundant in phenolic phytochemicals and possess highest amount of flavonoid content as well.
Brain health: Scientists have suggested that flavonols-rich cocoa may extend its beneficial effects in maintaining a healthy brain. These neuroprotective benefits could also have favorable effects on learning and memory functions. The findings have advocated that consumption of cocoa based products enhances the flow of blood in the brain and has provided evidence of therapeutic potential for curing vascular disorders.
Blood cholesterol: An investigative research study has shown that cocoa has hypoglycemic and hypocholesterolemic effects on the glucose and cholesterol levels respectively. Consumption of diet containing cocoa has shown reduction in triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and glucose level. It has also demonstrated noteworthy rise in the levels of healthy HDL cholesterol of the subjects.
Diabetes: Consumption of cocoa has shown to be effective in improving insulin resistance and glucose metabolism. This in turn aids in regulating the sugar levels. The proanthocyanidins derived from cocoa helps in inhibiting the cataract formation induced by diabetes. An investigative study has confirmed that cocoa exerts protective antioxidant activity in the treatment of long term diabetic complications such as diabetic nephrotoxicity. Nephrotoxicity plays a key role in diabetes mellitus and it is the major cause of severe renal disease. The oxygen free radicals aggravate the diabetic complications by promoting oxidative stress leading to cell and tissue damage. The free radical scavenging activity of cocoa has shown therapeutic effects in treating and preventing such cell injuries. The findings of another research suggest that consumption of flavonol:rich cocoa has shown therapeutic potential in improving the vascular function of diabetics on medication.
Bronchial asthma: Cocoa beans contain xanthine including theophylline which aids in relaxing bronchial spasms and open the constricted bronchial tubes. This facilitates in easy flow of air and is valuable in curing various allergies including asthma and shortness of breath. Consumption cocoa thus helps in providing relief from bronchial asthma
Wound healing: Cocoa extracts have been trusted for their therapeutic and wound:healing properties in the manufacturing of natural medicinal products. Cocoa extracts helps in preventing the development of various kinds of infections in the body. Along with the appropriate medication, cocoa has also been considered helpful in eradicating Helicobacter pylori bacteria from the body.
Obesity: A study has shown the potential benefits of cocoa in preventing high-fat diet-induced obesity. Consumption of cocoa helps in modulating lipid metabolism and reducing the synthesis and transport of fatty acids. It has also demonstrated improvement in the thermogenesis i.e. mechanism of heat production in white adipose tissues and liver.
Cardiovascular health: Studies have shown that cocoa exerts beneficial effects on the cardiovascular health. Cocoa is rich in flavonoids namely, procyanidin, catechin, and epicatechin which have antioxidant properties and helps in preventing the cells from damage and strengthens the heart. It also aids in improving endothelial function and stimulating the healthful HDL cholesterol. Cocoa helps in preventing the formation of fatal blood clots which can lead to stroke or cardiac failure. Blood platelets play an important role in cardiovascular disorders. Flavonoids present in cocoa possess anti-platelet effects and modulates primary hemostasis which is the measure of time blood takes to clot. All these health parameters helps in preventing the proliferation of various medical conditions like atherosclerosis and thrombosis which are one of the prime causes of the cardiovascular disease.
Mood enhancer: Consumption of cocoa has shown antidepressant like effects on the physiological processes. Studies have shown that cocoa flavonols help in enhancing the mood, combating depression and promotes improved cognitive activities during persistent mental exertion. The presence of neurochemical phenylethylamine in cocoa also helps in enhancing the feeling of contentment and promoting aphrodisiac effects.
Constipation: Research studies have demonstrated that consumption of cocoa husk exerts therapeutic effects in treating chronic constipation and bowel function diseases. As per the study done on pediatric patients, consumption of fiber-rich cocoa products resulted in faster colonic, rectal and intestinal transit times. Another study also advocated that regular consumption of cocoa products have shown to encourage better bowel function by reduction in time to have bowel movement, increase in the number of bowel movements and softer consistency of stool without inducing any other side effects like gastrointestinal discomfort and abdominal pain.
Cancer: Cocoa has demonstrated beneficial effects in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells without effecting the growth of normal body cells. Studies have provided evidence regarding the chemopreventive and anti-proliferative qualities exerted by the flavonols and procyanidins present in cocoa. These healing effects have proven extremely valuable in the treatment of various types of cancer such as colon cancer and prostate cancer.
Copper deficiency: Cocoa extends its benefits in treating copper deficiency in patients on long-term enteral nutrition. Research study has revealed that cocoa is quite valuable in the copper substitution therapy showing significant improvement in the hemoglobin level, leucocyte count and copper content in such patients. According to the findings, cocoa has been considered valuable as a copper-rich component to be included in the diet to maintain normal levels of copper as well as a remedy for treating copper deficiency in such conditions. It helps in preventing and treating the diseases caused due to copper deficit in the body such as anemia, neutropenia and leukopenia.
Chronic fatigue syndrome: Cocoa has shown to exert calming effects on people suffering from chronic fatigue. The attenuating effect of cocoa attributes to the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, anandamide and phenylethylamine in the brain which exerts protective effects on the neuronal cells from the oxidative stress and helps in combating chronic fatigue syndrome.
Skin care: Cocoa has also been effective in maintaining good skin health. Research findings suggest that consumption of flavonol-rich cocoa helps in decreasing the effects of UV- induced erythema and reducing the skin roughness and scaling. It also aids in enhancing the skin elasticity, hydration and density. Another study confirmed that epicatechin present in cocoa aids in elevating the oxygen saturation of hemoglobin, stimulating healthy flow of blood in the dermal tissues and contributes to endogenous photo protection. Cocoa is used in preparation of various skin care products.
Neurodegenerative disorders: The presence of major flavonols epicatechin and catechin in cocoa has shown beneficial effects in treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Research findings suggest that these phytochemicals have synergistic qualities which aid in reducing the oxidative stress. This helps in preventing the neuronal cell damage and exerts protective effect on the cellular membrane against cytotoxicity.
Magnesium deficiency: Another benefit of cocoa product is its role in preventing ill effects of the magnesium deficiency in the body. An investigative research has confirmed that regular consumption of cocoa products may prove beneficial in preventing the adverse effects caused due to prolonged intake of diet lacking in magnesium.
Cocoa – A Culinary bliss: Cocoa has been treasured worldwide for its usage in the manufacturing of chocolate and other sweet delicacies. Cocoa beans are roasted, husked, ground and depending on the requirement, sweetened and flavored to produce chocolate. Several types of chocolates are produced from cocoa beans such as unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, semisweet chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. Cocoa butter is also used as a substitute for gelatin to enhance the flavor and aroma of the food. Cocoa butter has a melting point below human body temperature and hence, it melts and provides a smooth and creamy taste to the preparation making it more palatable. These benefits make cocoa butter a healthy, plant-based alternative to be included in the recipe instead of gelatin which is derived from animal by-products.
Other uses of cocoa
Cocoa bean mulch: Cocoa mulch is a by-product and is produced from the discarded shells of cocoa beans. Mulch is valuable in reducing weeds, regulating the temperature of the soil, preventing soil erosion and increasing the nutritive value of the soil. Roasting of cocoa beans releases its shells which are further used to produce cocoa mulch. Cocoa mulch is rich in naturally available macro-nutrients such as potassium, phosphorous and nitrogen which are valuable for plant health. Cocoa beans have water retention capability due to which it is also capable of impeding fire.
Cocoa – Word of caution!
Caffeine: Cocoa is a source of caffeine. Consumption of excess caffeine can lead to various side effects such as increased urination, sleeplessness, and irregular heartbeats. Excess caffeine can also aggravate the conditions of people already suffering from anxiety disorders and diarrhea. Excess caffeine during breast feeding can result in crankiness and abdominal discomfort in the infants. Cocoa may also worsen the condition of gastro-esophaegeal reflux disease and advised to be avoided prior to the surgeries to avoid any interference with blood sugar control.
Allergic reactions: Cocoa can cause allergic reactions to those who possess sensitivity towards it. Allergies include skin reactions, migraine headaches, digestive discomfort like gas and nausea.
Drug Interactions: Caffeine may influence the effects of certain medications prescribed before the diagnostic test associated with heart. It is generally advisable to avoid caffeine-rich before such cardiac examinations. Cocoa may interact with certain medications including clozaril, dipyridamole, ergotamine, phenylpropanolamine and theophylline and influence their effects on the body. In addition to this, cocoa might also interact with the drugs for asthma, depression and diabetes.
In addition to cocoa beans, the therapeutic utilization of cacao bark, butter and flowers have also been valued since the ancient times for treating various diseases like skin ailments, bowel malfunction and wounds. Commercially available chocolates and cocoa-products may not be rich in the original healthful flavonols of cocoa beans as they might get destroyed by over-processing. In order to obtain the benefits of cocoa, it is important to consume the correct source of cocoa. A small piece of dark, unsweetened or unprocessed chocolate may be considered to add some flavor and health factor to your diet.
Relish! A guilt-free, heavenly, flavorful and salubrious bite with cocoa.