More and more medical research is emerging to show that the flavanols in cocoa have excellent health benefits.
Flavanols are a type of antioxidant, and antioxidants have long been known to be beneficial to health. Antioxidants are important because they use up the excess oxygen in the body. While oxygen is vital for health and our very survival, unused oxygen actually damages cells. This is because oxygen is poisonous.
Flavanols occur naturally in cocoa, which is used to make chocolate. However, most chocolate manufacturers have traditionally removed flavanols during the manufacturing process because of their taste.
Flavanols are also removed by many cocoa processors.
Clinical evidence now shows that flavanols in cocoa reduce blood pressure, in turn leading to a healthier cardiovascular system. Even relatively small reductions in blood pressure greatly reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Reduction in blood pressure occurs almost immediately after drinking cocoa that is rich in flavanols. Ongoing research is being conducted to determine if blood pressure reduction is maintained over long periods.
As early as 2006, a study by the National Academy of Sciences pointed out the benefits of cocoa’s flavanols. The study concluded that flavanols work by making the body produce more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide makes the blood vessels relax. This in turn improves blood supply to the brain and other vital organs. It also reduces blood pressure, meaning the heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood throughout the body.
Researchers compared the blood pressure of Kuna Indians living in two different areas of Panama. Those living on their native islands of San Blas regularly drink cocoa. Kuna Indians who moved to the mainland no longer drank cocoa or drank less each day. Figures showed that the island Indians had lower blood pressure than their mainland counterparts. Most of the island Indians aged over 60 had normal blood pressure. More than 50% of Americans over 60 have high blood pressure.
In July 2012, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is Europe’s equivalent to the FDA, acknowledged that consuming cocoa rich in flavanols was beneficial to circulation and blood pressure. The EFSA determined that consuming 2.5 grams of cocoa rich in flavanols each day delivered the positive effects. It emphasized that using cocoa for its flavonol content should be integrated as part of a balanced diet.
Flavanols occur naturally in other substances like tea, onions, and broccoli. However, their concentrations in these substances are much lower than in cocoa. It would be necessary to drink a lot of tea or eat large quantities of onions or broccoli to get the same amount of flavonols as drinking one cup of cocoa.
It seems to be beyond question that drinking cocoa that is high in flavonols provides health benefits. However, it is important not to cancel out the benefits by ignoring other aspects of your diet. If you make a cocoa drink using milk, then do not use full-fat milk.