Most people can appreciate the sweet taste of a chocolate bar which is why the news of the health benefits of Dark Chocolate and cocoa powder was met with such enthusiasm. That something could taste so good and still be healthy struck a responsive note with many people. While the health benefits of cocoa have been demonstrated, the decision to add significant amounts of chocolate and cocoa to your diet may not be as clear cut.
Cocoa health benefits
Chocolate and cocoa derive their health benefits from flavonoids which are plant pigments capable of acting as antioxidants to counteract some of the cellular damage that can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Cocoa powder has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow in humans. A cup of cocoa has almost three times the antioxidants of a cup of green tea, another drink renowned for its health benefits. With all of the antioxidant capabilities of cocoa it may seem like a no-brainer to add dark chocolate and cocoa to your diet. While cocoa is still recommended by most experts when consumed in reasonable quantities, the health benefits of cocoa should be balanced by its potential drawbacks.
Cocoa and your mood
Have you ever wondered why chocolate has an uplifting effect on mood? This is very likely due to its content of phenylethylamine which has a mood elevating effect somewhat akin to amphetamine type substances. While this may be a positive for those who are depressed, it can be a negative for people prone to anxiety or panic attacks. Plus, there’s evidence that this chemical can be addictive. Could this be where the term chocoholic comes from?
When consuming chocolate rather than cocoa powder, other ingredients added to the chocolate must be considered. Unless you’re consuming a sugar-free, dark chocolate bar, most commercial chocolate bars contain sugar which can have an adverse effect on insulin levels. To get the full benefits of chocolate, the chocolate chosen should be dark chocolate, not milk chocolate since there’s some evidence that milk negates some of the apparent health benefits of cocoa.
The other alternative is to get the benefits from drinking cocoa powder, but this, too, has its problems. Many cocoa powders are processed and contain such undesirable additives as hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and milk products. In addition, cocoa powder has been found to contain high levels of acrylamides, substances known to increase the cancer rate in animals and is considered to be a probable human carcinogen.
Although chocolate and cocoa powder don’t have extremely high levels of caffeine, they do have significant quantities of xanthines which are toxic to dogs and cats which is why you’re instructed not to give pets chocolate. Other drawbacks to excessive chocolate consumption include the rather high calorie load associated with most chocolate formulations.
If you want the health benefits of cocoa with fewer of the potential drawbacks, it’s best to consume as pure of a formulation of cocoa as possible with the lowest calorie content. Plus, it’s probably best to alternate chocolate and cocoa intake with green tea, red wine, and other health sources of antioxidants to maximize benefits with fewer negative effects. The conclusion? Dark chocolate and unprocessed cocoa powder can be a positive addition to a healthy diet if chosen and used wisely.