Why Cocoa can keep your Mind and Heart healthy this Winter!
Mental Health

Why Cocoa can keep your Mind and Heart healthy this Winter!

09/10/2019
Why Cocoa can keep your Mind and Heart healthy this Winter!

Is cocoa healthy?

First things first: we are not talking about your average chocolate! In most milk chocolate we buy to treat ourselves:

  1. the cocoa butter content is higher than the cocoa content
  2. other ingredients have been added, such as milk or sugar

The problem with that: Secondary plant compounds and essential minerals that are good for you are mainly found in (preferably raw) cocoa powder without additives.

 

Why is cocoa healthy?

Secondary plant compounds

Cocoa contains a large variety of polyphenols1. These organic molecules, which occur in all plants, are important in these for smell, taste, colour or protection against UV rays or pests. But they can also have an influence on human health.

Cocoa contains:

  • Catechins
  • Anthocyanins
  • Flavonoids
    • Flavan-3-oils
    • Proanthocyanidins

All these substances have already been researched for their positive effects on health because they are present in most vegetable foods. In addition to antioxidant cell protection and protection of blood vessels, there are several other effects associated with polyphenols2.

 

Cocoa and minerals - Is Cocoa high in magnesium?

Cocoa is rich in trace elements and mass minerals that are important for the smooth functioning of all systems in your body3.

What minerals can be found in cocoa4?

  • Magnesium: 100 g pure cocoa = 499 mg magnesium (133% of your daily requirement)
  • Calcium: 100 g pure cocoa = 128 mg calcium (16% of your daily requirement)
  • Iron: 100 g pure cocoa = 13.86 mg iron (108% of your daily requirement)

Of course, nobody eats 100 g of cocoa a day. But just the fact that at least part of the daily requirement of minerals could come from cocoa, is fascinating.

 

Why is magnesium so important?

Severe magnesium deficiency is very rare because the kidneys retrieve magnesium from the urine before it is excreted.

However, insufficient magnesium intake is relatively common. Inflammatory intestinal diseases can impede the absorption of magnesium. Elderly people can also easily develop a magnesium imbalance because their absorption is insufficient and the excretion increases.

Prolonged intake of too little magnesium can promote several diseases, including Hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and migraine headaches5.

 

Why do we eat so much chocolate?

The most obvious answer is because it contains substances that are addictive.

Processed chocolate in the traditional sense contains a lot of sugar and fats, which many of us can’t resist.

Cocoa also contains various alkaloids, which can be psychoactive and influence our behaviour. These include, for example, theobromine, a form of caffeine. 100 g weakly deoiled cocoa powder contains 2.3 g theobromine, chocolate with a cocoa content of 40% or more still contains 630 mg theobromine per 100 g6.

 

Chocolate - Menstruation and menopause

Gary L. Wenk - Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Ohio State University - discusses the magnesium content of cocoa and chocolate in his book. Since many older, post-menopausal women, have an insufficient magnesium status, these women often develop chocolism. Meaning the craving for chocolate is unusually high in this group.

Surprisingly, the intake of 100 mg of magnesium salts per day is often enough to put an end to chocolism.

But women may find more advantages in cocoa than just the magnesium content.

The amount of polyphenols and fatty acids in cocoa is comparable to the content of antioxidants in red wine7 and fats in olive oil8. As part of the Mediterranean diet, both red wine and olive oil have proven effects on a healthy ageing process and cardiovascular health9,10,11.

Cocoa also contains various phytoestrogens12. These plant hormones can increase the level of human estrogen due to their similarity. In times of estrogen deficiency or during menopause, cocoa can have a positive effect on women's health.

 

Why you should eat more cocoa

Influence of cocoa on your brain and psyche

The daily intake of cocoa, which contained at least 500 mg polyphenols, could significantly improve the mood of healthy volunteers over a period of 30 days13.

In a study with cocoa-containing drinks, a reduction of mental exhaustion during the solving of demanding tasks could be observed14.

The actual mechanism by which cocoa affects your nervous system is particularly remarkable.

Polyphenols stimulate the formation of NO (nitric oxide). This molecule can cause blood vessels to dilate. In the brain this means: better blood circulation, thus more oxygen and a better removal of cellular waste15. Your nervous system is therefore better supplied with everything it needs for excellent function.

In other studies, polyphenols such as those found in cocoa have been able to reduce inflammatory processes in the nervous system16.

 

Influence of cocoa on your cardiovascular system

Since cocoa polyphenols have an influence on NO production, a blood pressure-lowering influence was also found. As mentioned above, blood vessels are dilated by NO signals and thus the pressure in the vessels can be reduced17.

Cell culture experiments have also shown that flavanols - as in cocoa - inhibit the enzyme ACE. It normally causes blood vessels to constrict and promotes salt and water retention. Thus, flavanols inhibit a factor that increases blood pressure, thereby counteracting the increase.

When you talk about cardiovascular diseases, cholesterol always comes to mind. An excess of LDL cholesterol from food can destabilize blood vessels and, in the long run, can increase the risk of heart attacks or arterosclerosis.

Various studies have already confirmed that cocoa consumption increases the proportion of protective HDL cholesterol, while LDL cholesterol decreases18,19.

A meta-analysis was able to confirm that cocoa could also lower cholesterol levels in subjects with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease20,21.

 

 

Is cocoa sustainable? What you should definitely pay attention to

The problem22,23

More than two thirds of the cocoa traded on the world market comes from West Africa.

Unfortunately, the cocoa cultivation and processing industry there is also known for the massive poverty of its small farmers. They do not receive much of the profit, leaving them below the poverty line.

Harsh working conditions and child labour (in Ghana and the Ivory Coast around 2 million minors work in the cocoa industry) determine conventional cocoa cultivation.

 

The solution

Be sure to buy chocolate from manufacturers who talk about the obvious ethical problems of cocoa cultivation and try to find solutions.

Even if fair trade systems cannot yet guarantee all farmers a carefree life, they are a step in the right direction.

Organic farming without the use of pesticides not only ensures a better product, but ultimately also the ecological preservation of the growing region and the health of the farmers and harvest helpers.

Since the ideal cultivation area for cocoa lies in warm and humid rainforest areas, care should also be taken to ensure that the cocoa comes from a form of cultivation that does not endanger the rainforest24!

 

 

 

[1] Magrone, Thea et al. “Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 8 677. 9 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00677

[2] Francene M Steinberg, Monica M Bearden, Carl L Keen, Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: Implications for cardiovascular health, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 103, Issue 2, 2003, Pages 215-223, ISSN 0002-8223, https://doi.org/10.1053/jada.2003.50028.

[3] Francene M Steinberg, Monica M Bearden, Carl L Keen, Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: Implications for cardiovascular health, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 103, Issue 2, 2003, Pages 215-223, ISSN 0002-8223, https://doi.org/10.1053/jada.2003.50028.

[4] USDA

[5] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h5

[6] https://www.bzfe.de/forum/index.php/forum/showExpMessage/id/45540

[7] Gary L. Wenk, Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, Oxford University Press, 01.12.2014.

[8] Magrone, Thea et al. “Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 8 677. 9 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00677.

[9] Healthy traditional Mediterranean diet: an expression of culture, history, and lifestyle. Trichopoulou A, Lagiou P Nutr Rev. 1997 Nov; 55(11 Pt 1):383-9.

[10] The Mediterranean diet and nutritional adequacy: a review. Castro-Quezada I, Román-Viñas B, Serra-Majem L Nutrients. 2014 Jan 3; 6(1):231-48.

[11] Mediterranean diet and low-grade subclinical inflammation: the Moli-sani study. Bonaccio M, Cerletti C, Iacoviello L, de Gaetano G Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2015; 15(1):18-24.

[12] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-food/201011/chocolate-the-good-the-bad-and-the-angry.

[13] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Con_Stough/publication/235385970_Cocoa_polyphenols_enhance_positive_mood_states_but_not_cognitive_performance_A_randomized_placebo-controlled_trial/links/00463523fcfc30c38d000000.pdf

[14] Scholey AB, French SJ, Morris PJ, Kennedy DO, Milne AL, Haskell CF. Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort. J Psychopharmacol (2010) 24(10):1505–14. doi:10.1177/0269881109106923.

[15] Magrone, Thea et al. “Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 8 677. 9 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00677.

[16] Magrone, Thea et al. “Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 8 677. 9 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00677.

[17] Napoli C, Ignarro LJ. Nitric oxide and pathogenic mechanisms involved in the development of vascular diseases. Arch Pharm Res (2009) 32(8):1103–8. doi:10.1007/s12272-009-1801-1

[18] Shrime MG, Bauer SR, McDonald AC, Chowdhury NH, Coltart CE, Ding EL. Flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption affects multiple cardiovascular risk factors in a meta-analysis of short-term studies. J Nutr (2011) 141(11):1982–8. doi:10.3945/jn.111.145482

[19] Grassi D, Necozione S, Lippi C, Croce G, Valeri L, Pasqualetti P, et al. Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension (2005) 46(2):398–405. doi:10.1161/01.HYP.0000174990.46027.70

[20] Baba S, Natsume M, Yasuda A, Nakamura Y, Tamura T, Osakabe N, et al. Plasma LDL and HDL cholesterol and oxidized LDL concentrations are altered in normo- and hypercholesterolemic humans after intake of different levels of cocoa powder. J Nutr (2007) 137(6):1436–41..

[21] Baba S, Osakabe N, Kato Y, Natsume M, Yasuda A, Kido T, et al. Continuous intake of polyphenolic compounds containing cocoa powder reduces LDL oxidative susceptibility and has beneficial effects on plasma HDL-cholesterol concentrations in humans. Am J Clin Nutr (2007) 85(3):709–17.

[22] https://www.sueddeutsche.de/wissen/kakao-anbau-der-bittere-beigeschmack-der-schokolade-1.3809425

[23] https://www.fairtrade-deutschland.de/produkte-de/kakao/hintergrund-fairtrade-kakao.html

[24] https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/species/cacao

X Katharina Hoffmann

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