This Friday (26) is celebrated Cocoa Day, one of the darlings of Brazilians for being linked to chocolate. But did you know that it goes far beyond candy? Cocoa is believed to have been used for the first time by the Central American Mayan civilization and was introduced to Europe by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, but it quickly became popular as a health promotion medicine.
Nutrologist Allan Ferreira, a specialist in nutritional therapy, from Hospital Anchieta de Brasília, explains in an interview with PaiPee that it was a long process until he reached what we know today. He points out that cocoa powder, for example, is made by crushing the cocoa beans and removing fat or butter from the fruit. “Today, cocoa is most famous for its role in the production of chocolate. However, modern research has revealed that it does contain important compounds that can benefit our health, ”he highlights.
Thinking about it, Dr Allan checked ten questions about cocoa. Is it really good for health? Check-out:
1- Rich in polyphenols that provide several health benefits – Polyphenols are natural antioxidants found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, tea, chocolate and wine. They have been associated with numerous health benefits, including reduced inflammation, improved blood flow, reduced blood pressure and improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Cocoa is one of the richest sources of polyphenols and is especially abundant in flavonoids, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
2- It can reduce high blood pressure – Cocoa, both in powder and in dark chocolate, can help to reduce blood pressure. This effect was observed for the first time in people in Central America who drank cocoa preparations and had much lower blood pressure than their relatives who did not drink cocoa. Cocoa flavonols are believed to improve the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which can improve blood vessel function and reduce blood pressure.
3. It can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke- In addition to lowering blood pressure, cocoa has other properties that can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Its richness in flavonoids improves the level of nitric oxide in the blood, which relaxes and dilates the arteries and blood vessels and, consequently, improves blood flow. It has also been found that cocoa reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol, has a blood thinning effect similar to aspirin, improves blood sugar and reduces inflammation. These properties have been associated with a lower risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
4. Polyphenols improve blood flow to the brain and brain function- Cocoa flavonols can support neuron production, brain function and improve blood flow and delivery to brain tissue. They may play a role in preventing age-related brain degeneration, such as Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed.
5. Improvement of mood and symptoms of depression by various means – Cocoa can have some positive effects on mood and symptoms of depression, reducing stress levels and improving calm, contentment and overall psychological well-being. It is not known whether this is the result of neuropsychological substances such as theobromine, theophylline, tryptophan, or if it is also due to the sensorineural effect of tasting good chocolate.
6. Flavonoids can improve the symptoms of type 2 diabetes – Although excessive consumption of chocolate is certainly not good for controlling diabetes, cocoa does have some anti-diabetic effects. Fruit and dark chocolate can reduce the risk of diabetes and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. However, there are some conflicting results in the scientific evidence, due to the use of sugar and fats in their preparation, therefore, more research is needed.
7. It can help with weight control in many surprising ways – In a somewhat paradoxical way, eating cocoa, even in the form of chocolate, can help control your weight. It is believed that cocoa can help by regulating energy use, reducing appetite and inflammation and increasing fat oxidation and a feeling of fullness. In general, cocoa and cocoa-rich products can be useful to achieve weight loss or maintenance, but further studies are needed.
8. May have cancer-protecting properties – Flavonoids in fruits, vegetables and other foods have attracted a lot of interest due to their cancer-protecting properties, low toxicity and few adverse side effects. Cocoa has the highest concentration of flavonoids of all foods by weight and can contribute significantly to the amount in your diet.
Test tube studies of cocoa components have found that they have antioxidant effects, protect cells against damage from reactive molecules, fight inflammation, inhibit cell growth, induce cancer cell death and help prevent the spread of cancer cells. Cocoa flavonoids have been shown to have promising anticancer properties in studies in test tubes and animals, but test data in humans are lacking.
9. Theobromine and theophylline can help people with asthma
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes airway obstruction and inflammation and can be fatal. It is believed that cocoa can be beneficial for people with asthma, as it contains anti-asthmatic compounds, such as theobromine and theophylline. Theophylline helps to dilate the lungs, relax the airways and decrease inflammation. So while this is an interesting area of development, it is too early to say how cocoa can be used to treat asthma.
10. Immune system
According to a study published in the National Institute of Health of the United States, cocoa has been revealed as a food with immunoregulatory properties. That is, it influences the immune system, in particular the innate inflammatory response and the systemic and intestinal adaptive immune response. This positive effect is credited with the presence of a high amount of zinc and antioxidants and flavonoids with an intense anti-inflammatory effect.
“Despite all these advantages, we have to evaluate cocoa not only for its nutritional characteristics, but also for the way it is prepared. We know that many chocolates have a low amount of cocoa (less than 20-25%) and a high amount of fats and sugars, for example, ”he says. He concludes: “the orientation is to look for preparations low in fat and sugar, and with a high cocoa content, above 70%”.
Eat without guilt
Initially developed to help swallow medicines, therapeutic chocolate is gaining more and more space. This is because it is an easy product to administer, has a pleasant taste or can mask the unpleasant taste of some drugs. Aiessa Balest, pharmaceutical consultant at Farmacotécnica explains that today, these products are also functional and can help reduce the desire to eat sweets, lose weight, treat PMS and more.
“The base of therapeutic chocolate contains 70% cocoa, does not contain sugar, gluten, lactose and is sweetened with stevia,” she describes. She points out that it can be prescribed by the doctor, nutritionist or pharmacist. “Today we can adapt some formulas to use therapeutic chocolate, one of the most popular on the market is anti-candy”, she points out.
According to the specialist, it is indicated for people on a slimming diet. “His job is to decrease binge eating, insulin resistance, in addition to regulating blood sugar levels, controlling anxiety and, of course, the urge to eat sweets,” she concludes.
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