Welcome to my second post for heart month. It is all about cocoa. Cocoa is rich, varied and never boring.
Don’t you think we could all use a little cocoa in our lives?
- Rich in antioxidants makes cocoa the perfect indulgence. In fact, cocoa is one of the highest antioxidant ingredients available. For example, comparing the same amount, dark chocolate has 9080 units of antioxidants, whereas milk chocolate only has 3200 units.
- The varied health benefits of cocoa have been shown to include positive effects for both the mind and body. The antioxidants flavonoids found in cocoa, may improve blood flow, mood and energy levels.
- Cocoa is never boring. Our infatuation with cocoa and chocolate first began in the 1500s with its discovery in Mexico. The Aztec ruler at that time believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac and routinely drank it before entering his harem, thus increasing chocolate’s popularity and its association with mood, love, romance and Valentine’s Day.
I say cacao, you say cocoa…
Although it is unclear, the word “cocoa” may have come about due to frequent misspellings of the word “cacao”, when we refer to cocoa it is technically the term cacao.
- Cacao is the unprocessed bean from the plant Theobroma cacao, which grows in countries located just above and below the equator.
- The largest producing countries of cacao are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia.
- Cacao is usually cultivated in the shade of native canopy trees; however, due to the large demand of cacao, many farmers have cut forests to create fields for growing cacao more intensively.
- This causes reduced soil fertility, water contamination and health problems.
- As a result, similar to coffee, a certification system has been developed for cacao, where producers pledge to grow cacao in a sustainable fashion to maintain a healthy environment.
Three fun cocoa facts
- Cocoa contains numerous compounds that stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain. Chemicals that are released include serotonin which is related to feelings of well-being.
- Cocoa beans were used as a source of currency in Mesoamerica.
- Due to its lipid (fat) profile, the melting point of dark chocolate is just below your body temperature, causing the “melt in your mouth” feeling.
Cocoa and your heart
Cocoa contains numerous compounds that contribute to heart health. A main contributor is the flavonoids, which are similar to those found in apples. Flavonoids have antioxidant capability in that they scavenge for free radicals and protect our cells from oxidation (1). Researchers found that Individuals who consumed a cocoa beverage were seen to have decreased platelet activity which leads to reduced risk for clot formation, factors that contribute to heart disease (1).
A collection of studies on the effect of dark chocolate on blood pressure suggests health benefits from cocoa. In this case, for individuals with hypertension (high blood pressure), consumption of dark chocolate led to decreased blood pressure (2). This may be due to the activation of a specific enzyme, which causes arterial vasodilation (2). Other reported benefits from consuming cocoa or dark chocolate include nerve cell protection from inflammation, positive effects on mood and cognitive function, and improved insulin sensitivity (3). Despite these health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate, it is very important to consider the quality and quantity of cocoa you are consuming.
The calories and fat in dark chocolate and cocoa
As wonderfully rich, varied and never boring, the cocoa bean contain approximately 50% fat. One ounce (28 gm) of unsweetened, dark chocolate provides a hefty 148 calories and 16 grams of fat vs. cocoa powder at 21 calories and 0.5 grams of fat per ounce.
- Choose high quality dark chocolate that is at least 60% cocoa solids but no more than the serving size of an ounce (28 gm) a day.
- Avoid candy bars with no cocoa and high amounts of sugar.
- Make hot cocoa with with unsweetend cocoa powder and low fat milk with no added sugar or cream.
- If you want to add it to your everyday cooking, include some irresistible natural, unsweetened cocoa powder to your favourite fruit salad, chili and muffin recipes.
Be kind to your heart and have a Happy Valentine’s Day!
1. Steinberg FM, Bearden MM, Keen CL. Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: Implications for cardiovascular health. JADA. 2003; 103:215-223.
2. Haber SL, Gallus K. Effects of dark chocolate on blood pressure in patients with hypertension. Am Journal of Health-System Pharm. 2012;69:1287-1293.
3. Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease. Antioxidants and Redox Signaling. 2011;15:2779-2811.