18 Impressive Cocoa Benefits

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Health benefits of cocoa include relief from high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, constipation, diabetes, bronchial asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and various neurodegenerative diseases. It is beneficial for quick wound healing, skin care, and it helps to improve cardiovascular and brain health. It also helps in treating copper deficiency. It possesses mood-enhancing properties and exerts protective effects against neurotoxicity.

What is Cocoa?

Cocoa refers to the low-fat constituent of the finely ground cacao beans which are the fermented seeds of the cacao tree (Latin name: Theobroma cacao, which means “Food of the Gods”). These ground beans, known as cocoa liquor or cocoa mass, also contain cocoa butter, which is a non-dairy, naturally occurring fat present in cacao beans. About 50-60% of cocoa liquor consists of cocoa butter.

The cacao tree stands about 12-25 feet tall and grows naturally in tropical climates. The fruit of the cocoa tree is a pod full of sweet pulp enfolding a cluster of about 20-40 cacao seeds.

Watch Video: 9 Impressive Benefits Of Cocoa

Nutrition Facts

Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]3
Energy [kcal]228
Protein [g]19.6
Total lipid (fat) [g]13.7
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]57.9
Fiber, total dietary [g]37
Sugars, total [g]1.75
Calcium, Ca [mg]128
Iron, Fe [mg]13.86
Magnesium, Mg [mg]499
Phosphorus, P [mg]734
Potassium, K [mg]1524
Sodium, Na [mg]21
Zinc, Zn [mg]6.81
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]0
Thiamin [mg]0.08
Riboflavin [mg]0.24
Niacin [mg]2.19
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.12
Folate, DFE [µg]32
Vitamin B-12 [µg]0
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]0
Vitamin A, IU [IU]0
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.1
Vitamin D (D2 + D3) [µg]0
Vitamin D [IU]0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]2.5
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]8.07
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]4.57
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.44
Cholesterol [mg]0
Caffeine [mg]230
Sources include : USDA

Nutritional Value

As per USDA, cocoa is rich in minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium. It also contains vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and vitamin B6, E, and K. It is also a good source of zinc, iron, and sodium while providing the body with energy, carbohydrates, protein, and dietary fibers. It contains 0 cholesterol.

In addition to this, it also contains caffeine content. It contains cocoa butter, which according to USDA contains vitamin E, vitamin K, and fatty acids. It is a mixture of monounsaturated fats like oleic acid and saturated fats, namely stearic acid and palmitic acid.

It is a lot more than just a guilty pleasure!

Health Benefits of Cocoa

Let’s look at some of the major health benefits of cocoa.

Lowers High Blood Pressure

Dr. Dirk Taubert in this research has found that consuming cocoa-containing foods helps lower blood pressure levels. Flavonoid-rich cocoa aids in lowering blood pressure and improving the elasticity of blood vessels. Research shows 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 are attributed to the presence of antioxidants in it that stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which helps keep blood vessels relaxed. Furthermore, this helps in maintaining a healthy circulatory system.

Antioxidant Capacity

A comparative research study published in 2003 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has made it evident that cocoa exhibits higher antioxidant activity than black tea, green tea, and red wine. Antioxidants help neutralize the oxygen-based free radicals that are present in the body. In addition to this, it is abundant in phenolic phytochemicals and possesses a high amount of flavonoids as well.

Improves Brain Health

Cocoa contains a high amount of flavonoids like flavonol and research led by Dr. Norman K. Hollenberg has suggested that flavanol may aid in maintaining a healthy brain. These neuroprotective benefits could also have favorable effects on learning and memory functions. The findings have advocated that the consumption of cocoa-based products enhances the flow of blood to the brain and they have provided evidence of the therapeutic potential for curing vascular disorders.

Balances Cholesterol Levels

A 2004 study shows that cocoa has hypoglycemic and hypocholesterolemic effects on both glucose and cholesterol levels, respectively. It helps reduce triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the body and gives a noteworthy rise to HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the body.

Treats Diabetes

A research study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that consumption of cocoa powder is effective in improving insulin resistance and glucose metabolism. This, in turn, aids in regulating sugar levels in the body. The proanthocyanidins derived from it help in inhibiting the cataract formation occasionally induced by diabetes. The intake of this flavanol-rich bean also has therapeutic potential in improving the vascular function of diabetics on various medications

An investigative study has confirmed that it 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 diseases. Free radicals aggravate these diabetic complications by promoting oxidative stress, leading to cell and tissue damage. The free radical scavenging activity of cacao powder has shown therapeutic effects in treating and preventing this sort of cellular injury.

Relieves Bronchial Asthma

Cacao beans contain xanthine and theophylline, which aid in relaxing bronchial spasms and opening constricted bronchial tubes. This facilitates an easy flow of air and is valuable in curing various allergies, including asthma and shortness of breath. Its consumption, therefore, helps in providing relief from bronchial asthma.

Research published in 2014 in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology suggests that unsweetened cocoa powder has anti-asthmatic properties as it contains theobromine.

Speeds up Healing

Cocoa extracts have been trusted for their therapeutic and wound-healing properties in the manufacturing of natural medicinal products. The extracts help in preventing the development of various kinds of infections in the body. If consumed along with the appropriate medication, it has also been considered helpful in eradicating Helicobacter pylori bacteria from the body.

Weight Management

A study has shown the potential benefits of cocoa in preventing high-fat-diet-induced obesity. Its intake helps in modulating lipid metabolism and reducing the synthesis and transport of fatty acids. It also improves thermogenesis, which is the mechanism of heat production in white adipose tissues and the liver.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Cocoa powder is rich in flavonoids namely, procyanidin, catechin, and epicatechin, which have antioxidant properties and help in protecting the cells from damage while strengthening the heart. It prevents the formation of fatal blood clots, which can lead to stroke or cardiac failure. The flavonoids possess anti-platelet aggregating effects and modulate primary hemostasis, which is the measure of time blood takes to clot. This ultimately helps prevent atherosclerosis and thrombosis.

Enhances Mood

Consuming cocoa powder has shown antidepressant-like effects on certain physiological processes. Its flavonols help enhance the mood, fight depression, and promote cognitive activities during persistent mental exertion. The presence of the neurochemical phenylethylamine in it also helps in enhancing feelings of contentment and promoting aphrodisiac effects.

Treats Constipation

Consumption of cocoa husk exerts therapeutic effects in treating chronic constipation and bowel function diseases. According to a study done on pediatric patients, consumption of fiber-rich cocoa products resulted in faster colonic, rectal, and intestinal transit times. Regular consumption of cocoa enhances bowel function. This is because it helps reduce bowel movement time, increase the frequency of bowel movements, and softens consistency of stool without inducing any other side effects like gastrointestinal discomfort.

Prevents Cancer

Cocoa has demonstrated beneficial effects in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells without affecting the growth of normal healthy cells. Studies have provided evidence regarding the chemopreventive and anti-proliferative qualities exerted by the flavonols and procyanidins present in it. These healing effects have proven extremely valuable in the treatment of various types of cancer, including colon cancer and prostate cancer.

Treats Copper Deficiency

Cocoa extends its benefits to treating copper deficiency in patients on long-term enteral nutrition. The bean is quite valuable in copper substitution therapy, which results in significant improvements in the hemoglobin level, leucocyte count, and copper content in such patients. Cocoa is considered valuable as a copper-rich component. Thus, it could be added to 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 anemia, neutropenia, and leukopenia.

cocoa benefits infographicReduces Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Cocoa powder has been shown to exert calming effects on people suffering from chronic fatigue. Its attenuating effects are attributed to the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, anandamide, and phenylethylamine in the brain. These exert protective effects on the neuronal cells and helps in combating chronic fatigue syndrome.

Skin Care

Research findings suggest that the consumption of flavonol-rich cocoa helps in decreasing the effects of UV-induced erythema, and reducing skin roughness and scaling. It also aids in enhancing skin elasticity, hydration, and density. Epicatechin present in cacao aids in elevating the oxygen saturation of hemoglobin, stimulating the healthy flow of blood in the dermal tissues, and contributing to endogenous photo-protection. It is also used in the preparation of various skin care products.

Treats Neurodegenerative Disorders

The presence of epicatechin and catechin in cocoa has shown beneficial effects in treating neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. These phytochemicals have synergistic qualities, which aid in reducing the oxidative stress on the mind. This helps in preventing neuronal cell damage and exerts a protective effect on the cellular membrane against cytotoxicity.

Prevents Magnesium Deficiency

Another benefit of cocoa products is their role in preventing the ill effects of a magnesium deficiency in the body. The regular consumption of cocoa products may prove beneficial in preventing the adverse effects caused by a diet lacking in magnesium for an extended period of time.

Other

In addition to cacao beans, the therapeutic utilization of cacao bark, butter, and flowers have also been valued since ancient times for treating various diseases like skin ailments, bowel malfunction, and wounds. In order to obtain the benefits of cocoa, it is important to consume the correctly sourced cocoa. A small piece of dark, unsweetened or unprocessed chocolate may be considered to add some flavor and health to your diet.

Cocoa: A Culinary Gift

Cocoa has been treasured worldwide for its usage in the manufacturing of chocolate and other sweet delicacies as follows:

  • Cacao beans are roasted, husked, ground and, depending on the desired product, sweetened and flavored to produce chocolate.
  • Several types of chocolate are produced from cacao beans, including unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate.
  • Cocoa butter is also used as a substitute for gelatin to enhance the flavor and aroma of food.
  • Cocoa butter melts easily providing a smooth and creamy taste to many preparations making them even more palatable. These benefits make cocoa butter a healthy, plant-based alternative to be included in recipes, rather than gelatin, which is derived from animal by-products.

Note: Commercially available chocolates and cocoa-products may not be rich in the original beneficial flavonols of cacao beans since they might get destroyed by over-processing.

Uses of Cocoa

  • Cocoa mulch is a by-product and is produced from the discarded shells of cacao beans. Mulch is valuable in efforts to reduce weeds, regulate the temperature of the soil, prevent soil erosion, and increase its nutritive value.
  • Roasting cacao beans release their shells, which are further used to produce cocoa mulch. This is rich in naturally available macro-nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, all of which are valuable for plant health.
  • Cacao beans have water retention capability too.

Side Effects

The major side effects of cocoa include:

Caffeine addiction

Cocoa is a source of caffeine and excess intake of cocoa may cause the following:

  • Increased urination, sleeplessness, and irregular heartbeat
  • It can also aggravate the conditions of people already suffering from anxiety disorders or diarrhea
  • Excess caffeine during breastfeeding can result in crankiness and abdominal discomfort in infants
  • It may also worsen the condition of gastro-esophageal reflux disease

Note: Avoid use prior to surgeries to avoid any interference with blood sugar control.

Allergic reactions

Cocoa may cause allergic reactions like the following:

Drug interactions

  • It 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.

Caffeine may influence the effects of certain medications prescribed before the diagnostic test associated with the heart. It is generally advised to avoid caffeine-rich beverages or foods such as cocoa before such cardiac examinations. Also, consult your doctor before adding a new type of food, especially one with so many unique compounds, into your diet.

Origin

Cocoa is native to the Amazon region and as the meaning suggests, it was historically considered a very important crop in Central and South America. In fact, its beans were so prized that the native tribes used them as a form of currency. Today, it 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 to the overall 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 were ruling.

So, enjoy some chocolates! A guilt-free, heavenly, flavorful, and beneficial bite of cocoa is good for everyone!

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