Chocolate that we all know and love is produced from the beans of the cacao tree, Theobrama cacao. It is the cocoa or cacao in the chocolate that has been researched and shown to have many amazing nutritional benefits. I want to first explain the process of harvesting cocoa beans because it will create a mindfulness next time you take enjoy a chocolate or cocoa infused product. When purchasing cocoa or chocolate products make sure that you are purchasing from a reputable company and that it is well sourced.
Cocoa pods are harvested from mature trees where the beans surrounded by a cream-coloured pulp, are scooped out and separated from the husk and membrane. The pulp surrounding the bean is then heated and begins to ferment converting the sugars into acids. This process of fermentation and high heat will kill any bacteria, removes bitter flavour, and will activate enzymes that will enhance overall flavour during the roasting process.
The beans will then need to be dried and are shipped and sold to chocolatiers and are roasted. During this roasting process the beans will develop their flavour profile and become rich in dark colour. The outer layer will be removed and the nibs that contain high concentration of cocoa butter will be mashed into a thick paste. It will get heated and liquifies the cocoa butter into chocolate liquid, is poured into molds and hardens into unsweetened chocolate. This is where it is then divided into manufacturing for chocolate or cocoa. It is the cocoa bean and cocoa nibs that I want to talk about here because there is a lot of buzz about cocoa tea using cocoa as a coffee alternative.
There has been numerous research focused on the benefits of cocoa and effects on cardiovascular disease. It has been suggested that the small amounts of sterols in cocoa butter, sitosterol and sigmasterol, may inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol. With the rich source of flavonoid antioxidants it may aid in preventing blood clotting and damage to the arteries. (do not replace blood thinners or baby aspirin) Components in Cocoa can also help regulate blood flow, and blood pressure. Make your loved one a cup of cocoa tea and add some cinnamon and almond milk and you will give the gift of health to them.
Cocoa is rich in flavanoids which help your body function more efficiently while protecting it against everyday toxins and stressors. They have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, after eight weeks, people who consumed medium and high amounts of cocoa flavanols every day made significant improvements on tests that measured attention, executive function, and memory.
Cacoa is rich in polyphenols which makes it a potent antioxidant. Studies continue to be done but have shown to have positive results on the immune system. Cocoa flavonoids help reduce inflammation which helps with the overall immune response. (1) There have also been studies that improve gut health which is also an important part of the immune system. It helps by enhancing the function of a special layer in your intestines that helps protect against food allergy and maintain gut health. (2)
Studies are being done on the anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa the following are findings "The consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa may reduce inflammation, probably by a reduced activation of monocytes and neutrophils. This may prevent or even reduce vascular inflammation. The efficacy of this measure probably depends on the extent of vascular inflammation, but also on the kind of cocoa product used."(3) Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids there may be evidence that cocoa may reduce inflammation but how much is needed is not certain.
The brewing of cocoa beans provides a delicious replacement to coffee with much less caffeine. It contains the stimulate theobromine which can affect the central nervous system like caffeine but with less heart racing effects. It will offer a longer lasting more balanced energy without the spikes and crashes felt with coffee. Theobromine provides a non addictive, milder, longer lasting effect where caffeine can be intense, addictive and will not last as long. It will also provide healthier benefits. To get the benefits you want the unprocessed added sugar Cocoa which will be on the bitter side but oh so delicious. I know that a good cup of cocoa tea or cocoa from my friends at Momo Cocoa gives me the mental energy boost I need.
There is still so much research being done about the health benefits of cocoa what we do know is that it is high in flavonoids and antioxidant properties. Dark chocolate specifically has four times the amount of antioxidants than tea. Did you know that 1.5 ounce chocolate contains the same amount of phenols and antioxidants as 5 oz red wine. As I mentioned before make sure that you get a good quality cocoa and dark chocolate with 70% or more Cocoa. Cocoa is bitter because it does not have added ingredients but with all the benefits I think I would grab a cup of cocoa tea before coffee any day.
Murray Michael, Pizzorno Joseph, Pizzorno Lara. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Atria Books New York NY 2005, 634-644.