Who doesn’t find guilty pleasure in a piece of chocolate? Here is a fun fact though: Chocolate can sometimes be good for you, and you can thank cocoa for this.
For many years we have been warned to avoid all of our chocolatey favs – from bars and slabs to ice cream and sauce and brownies. The reasons were many, with potential acne breakouts and the fattening factor springing to mind first.
The news is not all bad, though. What these treats have in common, is the key ingredient cocoa which provides the chocolate flavour.
Cocoa is packed with antioxidants that benefit blood circulation, memory and concentration. (So money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a little pick-me-up after all!)
How you can enjoy more cocoa
The healthier ways of enjoying chocolate would contain a high concentration of cocoa with little sugar and processed fats. Examples include:
- Dark chocolate (any chocolate with 75% or more cocoa)
- Chocolate yoghurt
- Sugar-free hot chocolate (Nomu Skinny hot chocolate powder is a great example)
- Sugar-free chocolate-flavoured milk (yes, this is available – look out for the sugar-free Steri Stumpies for instance. Yum!)
When less is better
Now for a word of caution: Other chocolate treats contain very little cocoa, loads of sugar and processed fats and should rather be limited. Examples include:
- most chocolate bars
- chocolate cupcakes
- chocolate cookies
- chocolate ice cream
- chocolate milkshakes
“ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE. BUT A LITTLE CHOCOLATE NOW AND THEN DOESN’T HURT.” – CHARLES M. SCHULZ
Reasons why you should eat cocoa:
Registered dietician Andrea du Plessis lists a few benefits of cocoa.
Happiness: Yes, it is true! Components in cocoa stimulate certain areas of the brain which may affect mood. It is still important to consider the sugar content of various chocolate items, as eating too much sugar is associated with mood swings or unpredictable changes in mood, both good and bad!
Mental alertness: Cocoa contains various components, including antioxidants that can benefit mental alertness and memory, mostly through improved blood flow to specific areas in the brain. It is also believed that daily consumption of cocoa can slow down neurodegeneration, in other words helping to prevent premature ageing of the brain. One study showed the benefit of cocoa powder in the elderly, where it is believed to help improve brain function that supports attention, concentration ability and verbal ability. Another study showed how consuming cocoa before exercise could support brain function, specific to problem solving, working memory and reasoning.
Taming the appetite: The satisfying flavour of cocoa can play a role in appetite control. Research has shown how people tend to eat higher quantities of bland foods and snacks as a result, compared to food and snacks that have intense flavours.
Healthy joints: A recent study showed promising results in terms of cocoa consumption and joint health. The study concluded that after cocoa consumption, lower levels of compounds associated with the progression of arthritis were found.
Heart health: Studies investigating the effects of cocoa on the heart have concluded that it can actually have a protective effect over heart health. Polyphenols are antioxidants that are found in cocoa. They support the release of nitric oxide (NO), a substance that is known for its benefits on blood circulation and heart health. One study actually focused on the effects of cocoa on the health of the arteries of post-menopausal women, showing how daily consumption of cocoa could lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes in older women. Another research study showed the possible benefits of cocoa in lowering the risk of irregular heartbeat – mostly thanks to the rich polyphenol content of cocoa.
Cacao vs cocoa: What is cacao, and how is it different from cocoa? Raw cacao is extracted from the cacao beans through a cold-pressing process that retains the nutrients in the cacao and removes the fat (cacao butter). Even though cocoa looks very similar, it is different. It is derived from the cacao beans that have been roasted at high temperatures, which affects the nutritional content.
If cocoa is the goodness of chocolate, how can one eat it?
Yes, you can eat cocoa!
- Add a teaspoon of cocoa into your smoothies.
- Add a pinch of cocoa to your porridge.
- Make your own sugar-free hot chocolate by adding a heaped teaspoon to a cup of hot milk.
Can I enjoy chocolate for breakfast?
Yes, you can! Try this delightful sugar-free chocolate yoghurt & berry treat:
Add 1 heaped teaspoon Skinny Hot Chocolate powder to 1 small cup (200ml) plain, unsweetened yoghurt. Blend well with a spoon until all the powder is mixed into the yoghurt.
Serve with fresh strawberries or raspberries (or bananas, if berries are out of season).