Cocoa bean is superior to most beans from a nutritional perspective. According to the legend, the Mexican God Quetzalcoatl had left the cocoa tree for the people, that is, as 'the food of the Gods'.
Cocoa was once used for different medical purposes, but today it is widely used for making confectionery. Cocoa powder is obtained by crushing cocoa beans and the cocoa butter or fat is removed.
Cocoa powder is an adequate source of energy and a great source of essential nutrients like calcium, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc, iron and potassium.
Benefits of Cocoa Powder
Cocoa is associated with emotional comfort. It can improve mood and make people feel good. Flavonoids and polyphenols present in cocoa possess anti-depressant-like effect.
Intake of cocoa-rich diet promotes positive feelings through the release of brain peptides. Furthermore, cocoa stimulates the release of endorphins, hormones that help the body to cope with stress, as well as induce a feeling of happiness and overall well-being.
Hence, eating foods rich in cocoa, like dark chocolate may uplift the mood.
Polyphenols present in cocoa powder may enhance the cerebral blood flow. This supports oxygen and glucose supply to the brain cells and neurons and helps in the optimal functioning of the brain.
Flavonols from cocoa powder also improve the cognitive as well as the visual function. It boosts the blood flow to the brain and helps in the removal of the waste products.
Such an action of cocoa powder improves memory, attentiveness and ability to remember tasks. Hence, the pure cocoa powder is beneficial for students as well as adults.
Helps Maintain Beautiful, Youthful Skin
Scientific studies have reported that consumption of cocoa rich in polyphenols may help to maintain skin health.
Cocoa increases the antioxidant capacity of the skin. Polyphenols may protect the skin proteins against damage and destruction caused by free radicals.
A study observed that drinking a cocoa-based drink increased the flow of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood towards the skin. It also helped in the elimination of waste products from the skin. This resulted in enhanced skin glow and improved complexion.
Aids in Weight Loss
Intake of cocoa powder aids in fat loss, as it modulates the expression of genes involved in the breakdown, and storage of fat in the body.
Polyphenols from cocoa powder inhibit the accumulation of fat in the body by blocking the activity of an enzyme called pancreatic lipase. This prevents absorption of fat in the body and causes its excretion. Because cocoa helps in fat loss, it also lowers inflammation, which is linked to obesity and fat gain.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Having high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Consuming foods rich in polyphenols, like cocoa, has the ability to lower high blood pressure, indicates a study.
Flavonoids present in cocoa increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator. Nitric oxide promotes widening of the arteries, which ensures smooth blood flow throughout the body.
Cocoa further inhibits the production of endothelin-1, a vasoconstrictor, which elevates the blood pressure. Thus, regular consumption of cocoa powder has the ability to lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.
Supports Heart Health
High cocoa consumption can lower the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Intake of cocoa is associated with a decrease in blood pressure and overall cardiovascular mortality.
Flavonols in cocoa exert protective vascular effects. It further inhibits clot formation and ensures smooth blood flow throughout the body without putting any additional pressure on the heart.
Therefore, cocoa should be added to the diets of individuals who are at a risk of developing heart disease.
Helps Lower Bad Cholesterol
Cocoa helps in lowering bad cholesterol levels. It inhibits the absorption of fat from the foods consumed. Such an action of cocoa prevents the formation of bad cholesterol in the body.
Cocoa polyphenols suppress the synthesis of LDL cholesterol in the liver as well as block the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. An interesting study has found that cocoa boosts 'good HDL cholesterol' levels.
Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are the risk factors for cancer. Cocoa has a high concentration of catechins and procyanidins that fight against oxidative stress and lower inflammation. Thus, it protects against cancer and overall mortality.
These compounds inhibit the growth and multiplication of cancer cells and prevent their spread to other healthy organs of the body. Cocoa products offer strong antioxidant effects, which in turn suppress the formation of a favorable environment for cancer cell growth.
Regular consumption of natural cocoa powder reduces the tendency of asthmatic episodes, reports a study.
Scientific studies have found that unsweetened natural cocoa powder is enriched with two anti-asthmatic agents - theobromine and theophylline.
Theobromine and theophylline help with persistent coughing as well as help the lungs to dilate, airways to relax and reduce overall inflammation.
Fights Bacterial Infections
Natural cocoa is an amazing anti-bacterial agent. Studies have found that cocoa reduces the formation and spread of bacteria in the body.
Cocoa polyphenols weaken the toxicity effect of bacteria by preventing the interaction between the bacteria and the healthy cells.
Furthermore, cocoa flavonoids also reduce inflammation and prevent worsening of the bacterial infection.
Oxidative stress is the main culprit for insulin resistance. Flavonoids in natural cocoa ameliorate insulin resistance by altering glucose metabolism and reducing oxidative stress.
Studies have also highlighted the potential of cocoa-rich diets in preventing heart diseases in individuals with diabetes mellitus.
Epicatechin and catechin in cocoa inhibit the activity of alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme involved in the conversion of carbohydrates to glucose on digestion.
This inhibits absorption of glucose in the intestine as well as its transfer into the bloodstream. Such an action slows down spike in the blood glucose levels post meal.
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