Whether it is a hot chocolate, a chocolate bar, a milkshake or a cake, cocoa is one of the most widely consumed foods worldwide. It has been estimated that no less than 4.81 million tons of cocoa are consumed worldwide each year. Is it just as beneficial to eat a big bar of chocolate or a smoothie with cocoa powder? Learn here how to make the most of all that cocoa has in store for you.
Cacao originated in the Amazon and was discovered more than 3,000 years ago by the peoples of South America. Later, cocoa spread to Central America, where the Aztecs used it as currency and as an ingredient for a bitter drink, a favorite of the nobility of that culture, especially Moctezuma.
On the other hand, the Mayas prepared the drink in different ways and combined cocoa with honey, corn and chili bell pepper. In Peru, there are eight cocoa species, especially the so-called criollo or native variety. This is a high quality cocoa
Cocoa grains contain compounds and substances such as anandamide, arginine, dopamine (neurotransmitter), epicatechin (antioxidant), histamine, serotonin (neurotransmitter), tryptophan (serves to release serotonin), polyphenols (antioxidants) and flavonoids. In addition, this wonderful grain contains essential minerals such as iron, sodium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and a high calcium content. It is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, stimulates the immune system and has skin care benefits.
I’m sure you’re wondering, which cocoa presentation is the best? Definitely, processed chocolate bars are out of the question due to their high sugar content. Due to its versatility and composition, one of the best options is cocoa powder, rich in nutrients and containing a high concentration of minerals. Cocoa powder helps improve the health of our heart, bones, digestion, skin and hair, among others. Learn more about its benefits here:
Rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants present in cacao powder such as polyphenols have several health benefits, including decreasing inflammation, improving blood flow, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In addition, cocoa is high in flavanols, a class of flavonoids, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Prevents high blood pressure and improves heart health
Cocoa, in powdered form or as dark chocolate, can help lower blood pressure. The flavanols in cocoa increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, improve blood vessel function and lower blood pressure.
In one study, 35 patients were given a small amount of cocoa and found that it caused a decrease in blood pressure in people who already had high blood pressure. In addition, cocoa appears to have other qualities that may help reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Improves brain health
The polyphenols present in cocoa may help reduce the likelihood of developing neurodegenerative disorders by improving brain function and blood flow. Flavanols can cross the blood-brain barrier and are involved in the metabolic processes responsible for producing neurons and other critical molecules. A two-week trial of 34 older adults given cocoa high in flavonoids found that after one week, blood flow to the brain increased by 8% and 10%. Daily consumption of cocoa flavanols can improve mental performance in both healthy and mentally impaired individuals. In addition, it can positively impact neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
May improve symptoms of diabetes
There is no doubt that a chocolate bar is detrimental to blood sugar regulation, but cocoa powder offers anti-diabetic properties. Studies show that cocoa flavanols inhibit the absorption of carbohydrates in the stomach. In addition, they help increase insulin production, decrease inflammation and accelerate the transport of sugar into the muscle.
It was also found that eating dark chocolate or cocoa powder can help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control and reduce inflammation in both diabetics and non-diabetics.
May improve mood
Cocoa’s influence on the brain can also improve mood and depression symptoms. Its high polyphenol content increases calmness and happiness. Similarly, human research revealed that chocolate consumption was associated with better overall health and psychological well-being. In addition, it helps convert tryptophan into the natural mood stabilizer, serotonin.
Its antioxidant content protects cells by fighting inflammation and prevents the spread of cancer cells. Animal trials using a diet rich in cocoa or cocoa extracts showed promising results in the prevention of breast, pancreatic, prostate, liver and colon cancer, as well as leukemia.
Beneficial for asthma
Cocoa is suitable for people with asthma because it contains anti-asthmatic components. Theobromine, which is comparable to coffee, can help with chronic coughs. On the other hand, theophylline widens the lungs, relaxes the airways and reduces inflammation. In addition, cocoa extract reduced airway constriction and tissue thickness in animal experiments.
How to incorporate cocoa powder into your diet in a healthy way:
– Smoothies: you can add cocoa to your favorite healthy smoothie recipe to enhance its flavor.
– Puddings: you can add raw cocoa powder to homemade puddings, such as chia breakfast puddings or rice pudding.
– Hot or cold drink: to make a chocolate drink, combine cocoa with dairy or non-dairy milk. This is a great option that will help you sleep. Yes, drinking hot chocolate before bed can be relaxing. This is because cocoa can help improve mood and reduce stress because it contains tryptophan, a compound that induces sleep.
– Vegan chocolate mousse: for a vegan chocolate mousse combine avocado, cocoa, almond milk and a sweetener such as dates.
– Granola bars: to increase the health benefits and flavor of your favorite granola bar recipe, add some cocoa powder.
Another great option is to sprinkle it on fruit, it is incredibly delicious on bananas or strawberries. Its medicinal and cosmetic uses are increasingly appreciated, which makes the demand for this product grow. If you think that the benefits of cocoa powder can only be enjoyed by eating it, here is a simple recipe to make your own cocoa mask. Be sure to try it!
Homemade chocolate mask to nourish the skin
– 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
– 1 tablespoon of natural yogurt
– 1 tablespoon of honey
If you want to enhance the effects add 1 capsule of vitamin E.
Mix the ingredients, apply on your face, leave on for 20 minutes and remove with warm water. You will notice your skin softer, healthier and more luminous.