Cocoa Beans for healthy heart and mind

Can you say with the hand on your heart that you do not like chocolates and cakes? But knowingly or unknowingly many of us discourage our children from eating chocolates and other derivatives of cocoa such as cakes and cocoa flavoured drinks. Think twice before you scold your son or daughter when they eat chocolates often. The fact is that cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolates has lot of health benefits to offer. Let us look at this amazing natural product namely cocoa bean loved by all of us in general and the health benefits of cocoa beans in particular.

Cocoa Beans

Cocoa Beans (Image credit: David Monniaux / Wikipedia)

What are cocoa beans?

Cocoa beans are basically the seeds of cocoa fruit. The cocoa fruit is filled with sweet pulp and contains about 40 to 50 seeds which are generally white or light purple in colour. Cocoa podsThe seeds are removed from the pod, dried and then processed. The dried seeds turn brownish red or violet while drying. The dried cocoa seeds are then roasted for further removal of cocoa butter and other cocoa solids. Dry dark cocoa powder is left out after cocoa butter is removed. This dry dark cocoa powder is bitter in taste and is used in the preparation of many cocoa based products like chocolates, cakes, cookies and beverages.


The evolution of the cocoa bean

Cocoa beans were possibly first grown by the Olmec Indians of South America in 1500BCE as a regular crop. The migrating Mayans in 600AD brought cocoa plantations to northern parts of South America from the Amazon region. The Aztecs seized the cocoa beans from the Mayans and made classic cocoa beverage popular among the rich in the 14th century. The cocoa beans reached Europe through a Mayan Delegation visiting Spain. The sweetened cocoa beverage was first made popular by the Spanish in the 16th century followed by other solid cocoa preparations such as cakes and chocolate rolls a century later. Cocoa products were brought to USA in the 18th century by John Hanan of Ireland. The tradition of gifting heart shaped chocolate boxes for Valentine’s Day was started by Richard Cadbury in the 19th century. Popular chocolate brands like Nestle, Hershey’s and Godiva came up in the early 20th century.


Nutrition information

One serving size of 86gms of cocoa will provide about 186 calories (about 9% of daily value requirement of 2000 calories for a healthy individual) and contributes to percentage of daily value intake of total fat (11g) of about 17%, total carbohydrate (50g) need at 17%, iron to an extent of 74% and calcium to an extent of 10%. It also contributes to protein requirement of about 31% daily value need. The most amazing aspect you would find with cocoa nutrition profile is its rich mineral content. One serving of cocoa gives you a very decent daily value requirement as of calcium 10%, iron 74%, magnesium 102%, phosphorous 63%, potassium 62%, copper 155%, manganese 161%, selenium 16%, zinc 37% and sodium 1%.


Health benefits of cocoa beans

Cocoa beans are natural antidepressant

You would be amazed to know about cocoa beans natural antidepressant characteristics. Cocoa beans hold three of well researched neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine (PEA) which help to promote good mental health and keep the depression at bay. External supplementing of serotonin and dopamine can be reduced with regular consumption of one serving of dark raw chocolate for the promotion of wholesome mental well being. Also one serving size of dark chocolate can provide a decent PEA that alters brain chemistry in a manner very similar to person feeling high in love.


Cocoa beans improve cardiovascular health

Some interesting research findings have shown cocoa to regulate LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. The presence of some important minerals such as Magnesium in cocoa also aid in controlling cardiovascular health in a better manner. Instead of popular practice of consuming one glass of wine per day it may be worthwhile to eat one serving of dark chocolate for good cardiovascular health.


Cocoa beans are among the best antioxidant foods

Cornell University food scientists found that cocoa powder contains twice the amount of anti-oxidants than red wine and up to thrice the amount found in green tea. 100gms of fresh cocoa beans contains 10gms of flavonols antioxidants implying the rich concentration of antioxidants over 10%. It makes them one of the best foods with antioxidant properties.


Other benefits

  • A cup of cocoa can act as energy booster than a cup of coffee.
  • Some research reported cocoa can promote of weight loss.
  • Cocoa bitterness comes from the flavonoid namely Epicatechin. Some studies indicate epicatechin improves diabetic condition by promoting insulin sensitivity.


Why cocoa is not part of world’s healthiest foods?

Unlike other foods which are treated as wholesome either like complete seed or raw nut, cocoa is processed part of cocoa beans. Cocoa is more associated with the making of chocolates where cocoa butter and cocoa powder are used than direct food. Since cocoa undergoes process modifications naturally it is considered as less healthy, although latest research indicates health benefits of its flavouring micro constituents.


Concerns from processed cocoa

Cocoa has shown to contain traces of lead and other toxic elements that are harmful to health, especially when processed from non-organically produced sources. Cocoa in the form of chocolate can lose its antioxidants absorption capacity when combined with milk solids.