Chocolate/Cocoa originated from the ancient Mayan civilization, the first time the locals ground cocoa beans into a puree and add water and spices to make a drink, because of the magical effect of enhancing energy and curing diseases after drinking, so it is called the food of the gods.
In addition to its unique sweet, rich and smooth taste, modern science has also found that it is rich in a variety of plant antioxidants – flavonoids (far more than red wine and tea), which have excellent medical value, can prevent cardiovascular disease, improve mental function, slow down skin aging, regulate fat metabolism and other effects.
What is the difference between dark chocolate and cocoa?
Dark chocolate/cocoa are two products with similar properties, generally referred to as cocoa is a solid formed by grinding cocoa beans (from the seeds in cocoa beans) into a pulp and pressing to remove cocoa butter.
The fat-removing cocoa solids are dried and milled to become the well-known cocoa powder. The chocolate that everyone loves is made by re-adding cocoa butter and sugar to cocoa powder (72% and 90% of the chocolate label refer to the relative concentration of cocoa in the product, for example, 90% means that 9% of the ingredients are cocoa powder and cocoa butter, and the rest are sugar and flavors).
What are the proven efficacy benefits of dark chocolate/cocoa recommendations?
1. Dark chocolate reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1700 million people die each year from cardiovascular diseases.
High blood pressure, myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis, arrhythmias and valvular heart disease, coagulation disorders and strokes can all be called cardiovascular diseases.
Cardiovascular-related risk factors, such as smoking, physical inactivity, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, lack of daily fruit and vegetable consumption, and psychosocial factors, 90% of which are preventable.
A literature review and meta-analysis (16 epidemiological studies with 344,453 participants) pointed out that higher intake of chocolate reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 29% compared with the group with the lowest amount of chocolate, and was most protective in the female population. Note 1
Further analysis of individual risk subgroups, the reduction was 22% for acute myocardial infarction, 17% for heart failure, 30% for coronary heart disease and stroke.
A literature review and meta-analysis (23 epidemiological studies with 405,304 participants and 35,093 patients with cardiovascular disease) suggested that chocolate intake less than 100 g/week was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Note 2
It is important to note that above-average intake increases the risk, which is associated with obesity caused by high calorie intake.
The mechanism behind it may be related to the improvement of blood pressure, blood lipid regulation, anti-inflammation, and promotion of vascular endothelial cell function of flavonoids in chocolate.
*Conclusion: Moderate chocolate consumption is associated with lower cardiovascular disease events
2. Dark chocolate is good for weight control
Obesity is defined as a state of abnormal or excessive fat accumulation in adipose tissue to the extent that it affects health.
Population observation also found that obesity is associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, gallbladder disease, cancer (endometrium, breast, prostate, colon); and non-fatal diseases including gout, respiratory disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, osteoarthritis and infertility.
A literature review and meta-analysis (35 randomized controlled trials with 1775 participants) showed that cocoa/dark chocolate intake at a daily dose of ≥ 30 g for a duration (4 to 8 weeks) significantly reduced body weight and body mass index. Note 1
The mechanism behind it may be related to the improvement of insulin sensitivity, the reduction of gene expression involved in lipid synthesis, the increase of thermogenic effects, the inhibition of pancreatic lipase and amylase, and the regulation of appetite hormones contained in cocoa ingredients.
*Conclusion: Cocoa/dark chocolate ingestion over a short period of time may be a positive effect on weight control, but due to the high-calorie food, high doses should be used for a long time and caution should be considered
3. Dark chocolate improves athletic ability or physical fitness
In recent decades, one of the hidden worries brought about by scientific and technological progress is the lack of physical activity caused by sedentary time, mainly due to the development of the Internet, so that people can obtain all the needs of life without getting up and moving, whether it is work, education, and entertainment.
The health problems caused by sitting for a long time are second only to smoking, not only the increase in obesity rates, but also the incidence of various chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, etc
A double-blind controlled study (3 months, in 20 sedentary middle-aged adults) found that dark chocolate consumption increased VO2 max (17%) and power output. It was also found that the participants’ HDL was increased and triglycerides were reduced. Note 12
The mechanism behind it is believed to be related to the flavonoids in chocolate that can promote cell metabolism, improve mitochondrial function, and reduce oxidative stress.
4. Dark chocolate reduces the rate of skin aging
Having fair, flawless, wrinkle-free skin is the dream of most women, but the speed of maintenance seems to never keep up with the pace of aging.
Since aging is unavoidable, but there are friends of the same age who look younger, medical findings have found that in addition to genes, 90% of skin aging is from the damage of sunlight ultraviolet rays.
Ultraviolet rays easily destroy skin collagen, so that wrinkles appear early, but also form melanin, produce spots, and more seriously, cause cell lesions, cause skin cancer, so it is very important to learn natural sun protection methods.
Cocoa has been found to have the effect of resisting sun damage and slowing down the occurrence of wrinkles, a study in middle-aged and elderly women (skin with obvious photoaging photoaging and wrinkles).
A 24% increase in skin elasticity (no significant increase in wrinkles) was found when 4 g of cocoa drink (providing 320 mg of cocoa flavanols) daily for 9 weeks, but an 8% increase in crow’s feet in the placebo group Note 5
Another study also showed that cocoa drinks improved skin tolerance to sunlight, tripling the Minimal Erythema Dose (MED), making the skin less susceptible to UV damage. Note 6
The p.s. Minimal Erythema Dose (MED) is an index that measures how much UVB exposure is needed to cause erythema on the skin.
5. Dark chocolate is beneficial to brain function and mental capacity
As we get older, in addition to the deterioration of physiological functions (such as physical fitness), most people often feel that learning new things becomes difficult, it is difficult to maintain concentration, the ability to recall (such as names, telephones), and the ability to deal with things slows down, etc., most of these situations are not caused by diseases, but are normal mental aging.
Most people are more receptive to the fact that physiological function is worse than mental aging, as if mental aging is taken for granted, and the following findings help reverse this idea.
In the study, it was found that whether short-term or long-term use of dark chocolate or cocoa products, it has the effect of increasing mental capacity, transaction processing ability, working memory, visual information recognition ability, and can also reduce aging-related mental degeneration.
The mechanism behind cocoa’s ability to improve brain function is initially thought to improve cerebral blood flow after taking it. Note 7
6. Dark chocolate is good for high blood pressure
High blood pressure is a common disease in the elderly, except for a few secondary hypertension caused by the disease (such as chronic kidney disease, thyroid problems, aortic stenosis, sleep apnea), all other are primary hypertension of unknown cause.
Most patients who know that their blood pressure is high are uncomfortable and worried about the side effects of taking medication, so they refuse to accept treatment, and the result of long-term loss of blood pressure is to cause hardening of the arteries, causing sudden stroke, myocardial infarction and other life-threatening diseases
According to an epidemiological observation in the Netherlands, if more flavonoids can be obtained from cocoa or dark chocolate in the daily diet, the incidence of hypertension can be reduced. Note 8
Other large observations have also found that the antihypertensive effect of ingesting cocoa or dark chocolate may not be inferior to that of commonly prescribed drugs (such as beta-blockers), which can reduce (4.7 mm Hg systolic blood pressure) and (2.8 mm Hg diastolic blood pressure), and the antihypertensive mechanism behind it may be related to the fact that flavanols can stimulate endothelial cells to produce nitric oxide and achieve vascular relaxation Note 9
7. Dark chocolate strengthens resistance to stress
As long as people have desires, they will produce stress, and this source of pressure comes from various expectations and needs, such as relationships, physical health, job promotion, etc., and when these needs cannot be met or threatened, stress will occur.
But proper stress is actually an important key to human survival, and without a stress response, it will become helpless in the face of any emergency, unable to react immediately (decide whether to flee or get up to fight), and in ancient times it may be eaten directly by beasts.
In a study of students (who are under pressure to go to school), the polyphenols in chocolate can reduce stress hormones and have a stress-relieving effect. Note 10, and other studies speculate that the cause of related stress relief may be related to antioxidant efficacy and promote serotonin production.
What are the side effects of dark chocolate/cocoa?
In the known scientific literature, it has been found that the consumption of dark chocolate/cocoa has a high safety profile and few side effects, and the study pointed out that ingesting high doses of cocoa flavanols (cocoa flavanols) for 3 consecutive months was found to be well tolerated without any abnormal blood biochemical values. Note 12
However, caffeine and theobromine contained in cocoa can cause heartburn, insomnia, arrhythmias, and interfere with the effects of certain psychotropic medications (such as MAO inhibitors)
In addition, some of the amino acids (tyramine, phenethylamine) in cocoa are considered to be chemicals that may cause migraines, but as far as the current research is concerned, there are no large and well-documented studies that can confirm that taking dark chocolate/cocoa can cause migraines, so there is no need to worry too much. Note 13
The benefits of consuming dark chocolate/cocoa are true, but there are no precise reports on how much dose to eat to achieve disease prevention, and each product contains different plant flavonoids due to different manufacturing methods.
Therefore, it is not encouraged to binge eat dark chocolate and cocoa in order to promote health, because most of these products on the market contain high sugar, eating more will only offset the benefits, the correct way is to consume in moderation, and choose less additives (such as sugar) to bring health benefits.