Cocoa, Food of the Gods
Cocoa, ranking high amongst the list of effective superfoods, is derived from the fruit of the cocoa tree. Its scientific name is “theobroma cacao” which is derived from the Greek words “theos” (θεός – god) and “broma” (βρώμα – food). The cocoa tree is a relatively small tree, with a height of 4-8 meters. It is usually found in the wild, under the shade of other trees, in the tropical forests of Africa and South America.
The tree produces fruits, inside which are found around 40 cacao seeds, surrounded by a sweet off-white pulp. When ripe, the fruit is cut from the tree and the outer peel is removed. The wet seeds are then placed in large wooden boxes and covered with banana leaves. Microorganisms living in the pulp become active and the temperature gradually rises. There are various chemical reactions from which the particular smell and taste we all know is derived. After the fermentation process, which lasts about one week, the seeds are spread in the sun to dry.
Cocoa is a powerful antioxidant. The polyphenols it contains belong to the same group of antioxidants present in green tea and red wine. Its anthocyanins protect the cells of our body from premature oxidation and destruction, making us look and feel younger. The ORAC method is an indicative method through which antioxidant values of foods are graded. The score for 100 grams of blueberry is 2.906, for currant 3037, for milk chocolate 7262, for dark chocolate 19,600, for baked cacao powder 40,200 and for pure unprocessed cacao powder without sugar 80.933!!! (1). In translation of ORAC grading, cocoa is able to absorb 28 times more free radicals than its much advertised counterpart, the blueberry! And of course, we must not forget that free radicals, resulting mainly from environmental pollution, cause damage on a cellular level, and contribute to many harmful effects on our bodies.
According to a number of medical studies, cocoa flavanols improve cardiovascular function and reduce the burden on the heart resulting from the hardening of the arteries. A study entitled “Effects of cocoa flavanols on risk factors for cardiovascular disease» (2) concluded that a reasonable consumption can maintain and perhaps even improve cardiovascular function.
At the same time, flavonoids have been associated with vasodilation, thus helping to prevent coronary heart disease (3).
Cocoa consumption not only contributes to the reduction of blood pressure, but also reduces insulin resistance. It improves QUICKI indicators (quantitative insulin sensitivity index) and ISI (new insulin sensitivity index) (4) (5).
According to another study, cocoa helped people with elevated cholesterol levels reduce their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and raise their “good” HDL levels. Simultaneously, their LDL cholesterol was less oxidized, thus reducing the chances of heart disease (6).
Similarly, another study reported evidence that regular cocoa consumption reduces factors that cause mental disorders associated with increasing age (7).
Cocoa is rich in flavanols, which offer strong improvement in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort (8).
Additionally, it is considered to be a good prebiotic, as studies (9) have shown that it significantly affects the development of microflora in not only the small, but primarily in the large intestine.
According to other studies, the long term use of cocoa resulted in increased density and hydration of skin tissue. It also significantly reduced the roughness of their skin and improved the blood circulation in the area (10) (11).
How Safe Is It?
Cocoa is a safe food for most people. According to WebMD (12), since it contains caffeine, consumption of large quantities could cause the adverse effects of caffeine, such as nervousness, increased urination, insomnia, and increased heart rate. Nevertheless, the symptoms resulting from cocoa consumption are clearly weaker than those that appear with the intake of coffee (230 ml filtered coffee contains 95 to 200 mg of caffeine and the corresponding amount of tea contains 40 to 120 mg of caffeine whereas the same amount of cocoa contains 2 to 13 mg of caffeine) (13). With regards to dietary intake, unprocessed cocoa beans contain a very small amount of cholesterol and sodium. They are a good source of protein, potassium and zinc and a significant source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese (14).
Prefer Non-Processed Cocoa
Most cocoa powders are processed at high temperatures, sometimes with the aid of solvents. This results in the destruction of a substantial part of their nutrients and a limitation of their antioxidant properties (15).
This is the reason why it is preferable to consume unprocessed cocoa. You will, of course, be wondering how pure and uncooked cocoa can be eaten! If you find it in the form of seeds, you can eat them by chewing them with their skins, which are edible, perhaps with some honey or raisins. Five to twenty seeds per day are an ample per day serving range. You can also grind the seeds and use the cocoa powder in smoothies or sprinkled on a dessert. If you find it broken in small pieces (cacao nibs), which is the authentic chocolate with no added sugar or milk, a handful should be enough. Have some for breakfast, with nuts and dried fruits, sprinkle it over your Greek yogurt and experiment with a chocolate snack, high in nutritional value.
Regardless of the above, the cocoa powder found on the market today still retains many qualities of unprocessed cocoa. If you take 2-3 full teaspoons of cocoa, mix it in warm/hot water (do not reach a boil which will compromise its beneficial properties), and stir it well to dissolve, you will enjoy a delicious and highly nutrient-rich beverage. And after all, why not replace one of the coffees you drink every day with a hot cocoa drink? You will be treating yourself to a highly deserved superfood!
Holistic Health Synergies declares that this article was written, after considerable research, with the aim of informing its readers of the alternative ways in which nature reinforces well-being and welfare as part of the holistic way of life. It also states that its writing is entirely independent from any commercial or economic activity.