Go Ahead, Drink Your Cocoa!
The health benefits of cocoa were well known by the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures who used cocoa as a medicinal and spiritual drink. Today, hot cocoa is a popular drink, particularly in the winter months, but it is rarely recognized as a health beverage. Despite the delicious richness of cocoa, when hot cocoa is made with organic cocoa powder, and not diluted with too much sugar, it is one of the healthiest hot beverages.
Cocoa powder is beneficial for everyone, but particularly for those at risk for cardiovascular disease. The antioxidants in cocoa cause the body to naturally release nitric oxide, which then relaxes the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. They also help to neutralize free radicals in the body, which would otherwise oxidize harmful cholesterol, and eventually cause plaque build-up along artery walls. Additionally, in the same way that aspirin can be beneficial for the heart, cocoa is, as it prevents blood clots that could potentially constrict blood flow.
The Power of Antioxidants
Other benefits of cocoa powder include improving immune system response, reducing inflammation, and slowing the aging process. All of this positive action is due to the incredible quantity of antioxidants found in cocoa powder. Antioxidants are able to selectively inhibit undesirable oxygen reactions from free radicals, which are capable of damaging cells and enzymes, even cell DNA. Free radicals are inevitable, but exposure to excess UV rays and environmental pollutants, poor health, stress, and lack of exercise off set the balance between protective antioxidants and damaging free radicals.
The antioxidants that are found in cocoa, called flavonoids, are known to help prevent cancer, heart disease, and slow the aging process. According to the Science Daily (Nov. 6, 2003) article, “Hot Cocoa Tops Red Wine and Tea in Antioxidants: May Be Healthier Choice,” there are from two to three times the amount of antioxidants in a cup of hot cocoa as there are in equal amounts of green tea or red wine.
Why Drink Organic Cocoa Powder?
Unlike a piece of dark chocolate, which also is a good source of antioxidants, cocoa powder is very low in saturated fat, and is less likely to be processed to the point of losing the health benefits of cocoa. The flavonoid antioxidants are somewhat responsible for the bitter taste of chocolate — so they are often removed during processing, thereby reducing the antioxidants in the cocoa in the first place. Look for minimally processed, organic cocoa powder to make hot cocoa with.
Although organic cocoa powder is not a substitute for a healthy diet, a cup of hot cocoa once in awhile is an undoubtedly beneficial treat.
Page, Linda. “Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone.” Eleventh Edition (Traditional Wisdom, 2003).
photo credit: Christopher Carfi