Cocoa and dark chocolate have beneficial properties for our health. Obviously, as with all other beneficial foods, they should be consumed in moderation
The cocoa is the product of evergreen tree Theobroma cacao belonging to the Sterculiaceae family. The tree, which is found mainly in South America, can reach 10 meters in height. It produces white flowers with pink shades from which the fruits develop.
The cocoa is obtained from the seeds that are found inside the fruits through various processes that can be roasting, shredding and fermentation.
It was Christopher Columbus to import from America plant of cocoa. He, more than by the plant’s nutritional properties, was struck by the value attributed to it by the natives. In fact it was then used as a real currency.
- Chemical Composition
- Heart Health
- Blood Pressure
- Cognitive Function
- Types of Chocolate
- Cocoa Butter
In 2016, 4,5 million tons of cocoa were produced worldwide. The main producers were Ivory Coast and Ghana with 33% and 19% of total production respectively.
The cultivation and use of cocoa dates back to a few thousand years ago. In some archaeological sites dating back to 1900 BC, ceramic vessels containing remains of drinks obtained from the seeds of the plant were found.
In Europe the first acquaintance of this delicious food was made in the form of a drink by the Spaniards in the city of Tenochtitlan in 1.519
The cocoa contains more antioxidants phenolics than most food. Flavonoids, including catechin, epicatechin and procyanidins, are the main responsible for the antioxidant activity. According to studies, food and beverages based on fruits of the Theobroma cocoa tree have been consumed by humans since at least 460 AD. ( 1 )
The medicinal uses of cocoa or chocolate as a therapeutic remedy originate from Mesoamerica. Here it was consumed by indigenous peoples and widespread in Europe in the mid-1500. Consider that between the 16th and the 20th century over 100 uses were documented for cocoa or chocolate, as a medical treatment. ( 2 )
Studies have mainly supported a protective association between the consumption of cocoa or chocolate and a variety of health indicators. These include total and cardiovascular mortality, reactive serum protein C, psychological well-being and risk of diabetes , myocardial infarction and / or stroke. ( 3, 4, 5 )
|Chemical composition for 100 grams of bitter cocoa powder|
Amino acids: aspartic acid and glutamic acid, alanine, arginine, cystine, glycine, phenylalanine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, proline, methionine, serine, tyrosine, tryptophan, valine and threonine.
100 grams of cocoa have a heat yield of 228 kcal .
Cocoa: Properties and Benefits
All the studies carried out so far confirm that the greatest benefits to our health are brought about by the consumption of dark chocolate (naturally without exaggeration). Consuming this type of chocolate is one of the best ways to benefit from the properties of cocoa.
The dark chocolate (bitter that for instance) contains a good amount of substances antioxidants can fight the effects of free radicals and slow the aging process of cells. The high antioxidant power is due to a group of compounds called polyphenols and more specifically flavonoids.
These are present in cocoa more than in any other food. In particular there are two flavonoids in very high quantities, catechin and epicatechin. These two substances are assumed to have beneficial health effects.
The cocoa and dark chocolate and have more properties antioxidants, polyphenols and flavonols in particular compared to other beneficial fruits. A study published in the Central Journal Chemistry, for example, shows that cocoa and dark chocolate have greater antioxidant activity than blueberries and acai berries. ( 6 )
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compared the amount of antioxidants with other foods. The results showed that cocoa contains more antioxidants than in black tea, the green tea and the red wine. ( 4 )
The large amount of antioxidants present in cocoa also have beneficial effects on cholesterol, a regular intake is in fact able to increase the percentage of good HDL cholesterol and to lower the percentage of bad LDL.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in November 2002 claims that these flavonoids are absorbed entirely and intact by the blood thus bringing their benefits to the body.
Another study published in the Southern Medical Journal found that a single week of cocoa intake improves lipid profiles and reduces platelet reactivity in both women and men. Furthermore, the results suggest that 15 days of dark chocolate intake reduced LDL cholesterol by 7,5% . ( 7 )
In a study of patients with hypertension, the daily consumption of 100 g of chocolate containing flavonoid-rich cocoa significantly reduced total serum cholesterol by 7% and LDL cholesterol by 12%. ( 8 )
In another study, cocoa consumption increased good cholesterol by 4%. ( 9 )
A Chinese study suggests that cocoa can significantly reduce LDL cholesterol and even total cholesterol when consumed at low doses by individuals with cardiovascular risk factors. ( 10 )
The theobromine, along with caffeine, has the property to increase concentration and alertness, while serotonin has the ability to support the nervous system in case of depression.
It should be noted that another component of it, tyramine, is used for the preparation of antidepressant drugs. In cocoa there is a wide range of substances that cause euphoria including tyramine and the anandamide.
The tyramine helps to calm the anxious states and to rebalance the mood but in particularly sensitive people it can cause a headache. In addition to these substances, tryptophan, an amino acid present in cocoa, is responsible for its antidepressant properties as it activates serotonin, a substance involved in mood regulation.
A study of 2019 found that people who consumed from 100 to 400 grams of dark chocolate a day had a lower risk of 57% to develop depressive symptoms than those who are not consumed at all. ( 11 )
A study of 3.000 depressed people found that half of them, most of them women, wanted to eat chocolate. In fact, these people judged their chocolate intake to be beneficial for depression. ( 12 )
Most research on chocolate and cocoa has taken place over the last few decades. The focus was mainly on the relationship between the consumption of these foods and the cardiovascular risk. ( 13 )
Studies have shown that flavanols have a beneficial effect on heart health. Their activity helps keep blood pressure under control and improves blood flow to the heart and brain. The flavanols present in cocoa can also prevent the formation of blood clots thus reducing the risk of stroke. ( 14 )
A study published in the International Journal of Cardiology examined the effect of taking dark chocolate on some patients for two weeks. At the end of the tests the patients experienced an improvement in blood circulation. ( 15 )
A recent study followed the health of 20.000 people over a period of 11 years. The researchers concluded that a higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower cardiovascular risk. During the study, 12% of the people who ate chocolate died of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, 17.4% of people who did not eat chocolate died of cardiovascular disease. ( 16 )
A Swedish study examined cardiac function in a group of patients admitted to the hospital with a first myocardial infarction. Patente were followed for more than 8 years. At the end, those who declared they had eaten chocolate two or more times a week had 66% less chance of suffering from a cardiac death. ( 17 )
An American study of 2,217 people identified an inverse relationship between chocolate consumption and calcified atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries. Individuals who reported consuming chocolate two or more times a week were 32% less likely to have coronary artery calcification. ( 18 )
A study conducted at Harvard Medical School on 31.823 women evaluated the relationship between chocolate consumption and heart failure. The study lasted over 9 years . The results have showed that women who consumed 1 to 3 servings per month of chocolate had significantly lower rates of hospitalization due to heart failure or death from heart failure. ( 19 )
The presence of a good percentage of flavonoids in this precious food is beneficial for blood pressure. The flavonoids in fact improve the elasticity of the blood vessels favoring the lowering of the pressure.
Studies have been conducted on this topic. The results showed a real effectiveness of cocoa in reducing blood pressure values. This property has been attributed to the presence of antioxidants that stimulate the production of nitric oxide. This compound in fact helps to keep the blood vessels relaxed and therefore more elastic. ( 20 )
A Dutch study found an association between cocoa consumption and blood pressure reduction in older people. ( 21 )
Some scientific research suggests that the flavonols present in this food can bring benefits to the brain. The effects would be of a neuro-protective nature and could affect memory and learning ability. ( 21 )
The consumption of cocoa enriched with flavonoids influences cerebral blood flow. Studies show an increase in blood flow to the brain as early as 3 hours after cocoa consumption. ( 22 )
Increased blood flow to the brain induces angiogenesis and growth of new cells in the hippocampus nerve, a key region involved in the development of memory. ( 23 )
In addition, flavonoids interact with a variety of neuronal proteins that can eventually prevent neuron death. ( 24 )
A 2009 study of 2.000 people showed that chocolate consumption benefits cognitive function in the elderly. The research examined the relationship that exists between intake of foods rich in flavonoids (chocolate, tea, wine) and cognitive function. The researchers concluded that taking flavonoid-rich foods improves cognitive function. ( 25 )
Its consumption improves sugar metabolism and insulin resistance. The consequence is a better adjustment of sugar in the blood. This is supported by a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. ( 26 )
A further study confirms the protective properties of cocoa against long-term diabetic complications. ( 27 )
There is reason to believe that flavanols in cocoa may improve insulin resistance by reducing oxidative stress, improving endothelial function and / or by altering the metabolism of glucose. According to studies, oxidative stress is the underlying mechanism of insulin resistance. ( 28 )
If this hypothesis is correct, the antioxidant property demonstrated by cocoa flavanols could theoretically also protect against insulin resistance. ( 29 )
The insulin sensitivity was significantly improved in overweight and obese adults who consumed cocoa for 12 weeks. ( 30 )
Contains xanthine and theophylline, two compounds that help relax the bronchial channels and so calm bronchial spasms. This property facilitates the passage of air flow and is useful in the treatment of allergies, asthma and shortness of breath.
Scientific research has shown that its consumption has beneficial effects in case of constipation. A study conducted on pediatric patients showed that its consumption led to faster transit of food into the intestinal tract and into the colon.
Another study has however shown that its intake improves the intestinal function by increasing the frequency of bowel movements. ( 31 )
Epicatechin and catechin, two important flavonols present in the fruit, have shown beneficial effects in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. The results of the studies suggest that these compounds help reduce the oxidative stress of brain cells. In this way there is a protective effect on the cell membrane against cytotoxicity. ( 32 )
Elixir of Long Life
It seems to be enough to take about 20 grams of bitter chocolate a day to prolong the life span. It is supported by recent research conducted in England.
A study published in Endocrine Abstracts has shown its calming effects on the psyche in case of chronic fatigue. These properties are attributed to the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and phenylethylamine. These compounds protect brain cells from oxidative stress and counteract chronic fatigue. ( 33 )
Various Types of chocolate
To obtain the powder of cocoa is extracted the fat part of the seeds, or the butter, the chocolate paste. What remains is ground to form the precious powder.
With milk: it is obtained by adding a percentage of milk and sugar to dark chocolate.
White chocolate: it is composed exclusively of cocoa butter, milk and sugar.
Better to avoid giving it to children under 3 years, as it could trigger allergic reactions.
In people subject to hypertension and nervousness the presence of caffeine, if taken in excessive doses, could accentuate these symptoms.
Some people have experienced constipation problems after eating chocolate. Although studies have not confirmed that cocoa causes constipation, it is believed that the cause may be in other ingredients in chocolate. In addition, the caffeine contained in cocoa can contribute to episodes of dehydration that make the stools harder and more difficult to excrete.
Did you know that?
The polyphenols present in cocoa block the activation of the cells involved in the inflammatory processes and at the same time counteract the aggregation of platelets in the blood, decreasing the risk of heart attack.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 shows that cocoa reduces platelet aggregation. If consumed regularly, cocoa acts as a natural anticoagulant with consequent benefits for the health of the heart and the cardiovascular system.
The cocoa butter is obtained by pressing using cocoa seed presses containing up to 55%. Given the rather high cost for its production, butter is often cut with other fatty substances that can range from palm oil to paraffin. Once these fats are well blended with cocoa butter they also take on its characteristics.
For food uses, as is known, butter is used for the preparation of chocolate and some sweets, while, for pharmaceutical use, it is used in the preparation of suppositories and various pills. In the cosmetic field instead, cocoa butter is used in hypoallergenic lip and lipstick sticks.
Recent studies have shown that a popular belief rooted in our society is groundless: the relationship between chocolate and pimples. The latter develop due to causes that are completely independent of chocolate intake.
According to doctors at Missouri State University , chocolate, and therefore cocoa, would have healing properties for headaches. It seems that the bitter one has anti-inflammatory effects and contains substances with pain-relieving properties .
The tree is able to give 2 harvests a year and reaches its full development within ten years. A plantation produces fruit for about 30 years .
The consumption of chocolate causes the body to produce endorphins whose effect gives a feeling of euphoria and well-being similar to those caused by opium.
Maybe Not Everyone Knows That
The ancient Mayan and Atzec population considered it the food of the gods and was in fact often offered as a gift to the gods of the time. These populations also believed that the plant was able to give immortality.
40 grams of chocolate are enough to benefit from cocoa intake and at the same time not to exceed the calories ingested which are 226.
In the countries of origin the popular tradition assigns to the plant different properties able to cure different pathologies, from hemorrhoids to respiratory disorders.
Worldwide, chocolate consumption ranges from 0,12 kg per person per year in China to 11,85 kg in Ireland. Instead, the United States has an annual per capita consumption of 5,18 kg.
Cocoa: Properties and Benefits
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