The Health Benefits of Cocoa
The Benefits of Cocoa
Countless studies are proving the health benefits of cocoa, which include cardiovascular health, insulin improvement, cognition and memory, and even skin health. These benefits are primarily from the flavanols that cocoa contains. The darker and more natural the source, the more beneficial. Cocoa powder seems to offer the highest concentration followed by dark chocolate. Note the capsules really are just an easier way to consume a large amount of concentrated powder.
Flavanols are just one of six forms of flavonoids, all of which offer highly beneficial antioxidant effects and can also be found in fruits, vegetables, and teas.
How much cocoa or dark chocolate do I need? Clinical studies suggest the following total daily intakes of flavanols for the purposes noted below, although further research is needed to confirm benefits and optimal dosing:
- Cardiovascular health: About 200 to 900 mg per day
- Blood sugar/insulin improvement: About 200 mg to 600 mg per day
- Memory/cognitive function: About 500 to 900 mg per day
- Skin elasticity/wrinkles: 320 mg per day
Where to Get Flavanols
Manufacturers don’t include flavanol content on their labels so it is not possible to know the exact flavanol content, but to give a rough idea:
- 20g of dark chocolate (60% cocoa solids) contains 34 mg of flavanols
- 20g of milk chocolate contains 14 mg of flavanols
- 20g of white chocolate contains no flavanols.
Hershey's Cocoa Powder (100% Cacao) - This powder contained one of the highest concentrations of flavanols among the cocoa powders tested, providing about 24 mg of flavanols per gram, while most powders provided between 12 mg and 26 mg per gram.
Requires 36 grams of powder to get the dose (862 mg) in the cardiovascular study. At 5 grams per tbsp, that’s 7 tbsps.
More on Cocoa Powders - New study re-emphasizes natural cocoa powder has high antioxidant content
If we are having difficulty getting enough flavanols from cocoa each day, an alternative could be through capsules.
- Cocoavia - contains 225 mg of flavanols per capsule. This is the product used in the U.K. study.
The best way to get the heart healthy benefits of flavanols, specifically epicatechin, is to eat plenty of plant foods which are high in these, including - berries, apples, pears, nuts, grapes, tea, and green tea.
From Frontiers in Nutrition - Assessing Variability in Vascular Response to Cocoa With Personal Devices: A Series of Double-Blind Randomized Crossover n-of-1 Trials
Controlled clinical intervention studies have demonstrated that cocoa flavanols (862 mg) can decrease blood pressure and arterial stiffness in healthy humans.
Also - Why chocolate could be just as good for the heart as high blood pressure medication (From StudyFinds).
Even Deeper Dive
Cocoa: a sweet treat for the brain? (From Harvard Health)
Italian researchers tested the effects of cocoa flavanols in 90 healthy 61- to 85-year-olds whose memories and thinking skills were in good shape for their ages. Participants drank a special brew of cocoa flavanols each day. One group’s brew contained a low amount of cocoa flavanols (48 milligrams [mg] a day), another’s contained a medium amount (520 mg), and the third’s contained a high amount (993 mg).
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. The findings were published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Also - Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment
Flavanol compounds in cocoa – epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidin – each play a role in reducing inflammation.
Extra Deep Dive
Flavanols are just one type of flavonoid. There are six primary types of flavonoids, each with health-promoting effects. These are:
- Flavan-3-ols - a derivative of flavanols.
Getting all of these flavonoids can be accomplished by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and teas.
Read more - All About Flavonoids (Coming soon!)