Reading Time: 6 mins
Did you know that cocoa in chocolate is one of the major contributors of healthy antioxidants to the American diet¹ after fruits and vegetables?
Though most of us would never think of it as more than a common pantry item, cocoa is actually an ancient super food. To the Mayans of Mexico and Central America, where it was first domesticated, cocoa symbolized life and fertility because of its health benefits. Known as a “food of the gods,”² cocoa was even used in spiritual ceremonies more than 4000 years ago. Later, it was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards and it quickly caught on as the popular cocoa beverage we all love.
In recent decades, researchers have increasingly found that science supports the ancient reverence for the cocoa bean. As a rich source of polyphenols, cocoa possesses the power to impart a wide array of health benefits. The majority of the world today indulges in cocoa in the form of chocolate, which also provides its fair share of unnecessary sugar and fat along with its healthy components. However, there is a new and innovative way to get the amazing health benefits of these ancient beans without the added sugar and fat – CocoaNOL, an organic cocoa extract.
Antioxidants: The key to CocoaNOL
Today’s science increasingly supports what the ancients’ revered for centuries about the yummy cocoa bean; we now know that cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most other foods, including flavonoids, catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidins. Due to their unique structure, these flavonoids act as antioxidants. Antioxidants are a big deal because they eat up reactive oxygen species that damage cells and contribute to different diseases, including heart diseases and cancer. These antioxidants boost our body’s defenses.
Despite being a naturally fabulous source of antioxidants, concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols vary from batch to batch of cocoa and processing often seriously reduces the content in the final product. With CocoaNOL, a novel cocoa nutraceutical that is standardized to 10% natural cocoa polyphenols you get the highest concentration of antioxidant epicatechins, the primary antioxidant in cocoa, of any chocolate product on the market. Epicatechins are important because they are linked to many of cocoa’s health benefits.
As a group, cocoa’s powerful antioxidants allow it to support a range of important body functions and systems, including supporting heart and circulatory health, normal blood sugar balance, and a healthy immune response. It also supports cognitive health, balances mood, and even appetite and satiety.3 Nutrient-wise, cocoa is a rich source of magnesium, a key mineral for a healthy heart and enhanced mood. It is also a source of fiber, potassium, manganese and copper.3
Of the ample studies that have been done both on cocoa and chocolate over the decades, a large number have pointed to cocoa’s support of heart health. More specifically, it helps promote blood pressure levels within normal range, and supports healthy arteries, cerebrovascular health (brain health), and more.4
In one study, the effect of cocoa extract and dark chocolate on key cardiovascular enzyme (angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE)) and nitric oxide (NO), was explored in the cells of 16 healthy volunteers. These cardiovascular enzymes are important for regulating blood pressure.They found that eating just 75 g of dark chocolate containing 72% cocoa, led to significant improvements in inhibiting ACE.5
Cocoa has also been found to help support normal blood sugar levels.⁶ The polyphenols, catechin and epicatechin, have been found to support sugar metabolism in studies in which absorption of glucose from the gut was effectively slowed down. Animal studies have also supported the effect of cocoa on the body, and its ability to make the body use insulin more effectively.
Mood and Cognitive Health
You may not have known about its heart healthy benefits, but pretty much everyone knows the happy feeling we get after eating cocoa-rich chocolate, and now the science shows it may also help keep us sharper and calmer too. In a study of 30 healthy adults, drinking flavanol-rich cocoa preparations, there was a significant increase in cognitive performance and reduced mental fatigue in the subjects. In addition, a comprehensive study of 30 subjects who consumed 40 g of cocoa-rich dark chocolate daily for 2 weeks, showed that cocoa had significant effects in subjects who reported higher anxiety at the beginning of the study, and helped reduce the stress hormone cortisol.7
If all of the above is not enough reason to give CocoaNol a try – brace yourselves, folks: there’s good evidence that cocoa may also help control appetite. In contrast to chocolate which has a reputation for contributing to weight gain due to its high fat, sugar and calorie content, a number of human studies have reported that cocoa-rich dark chocolate can regulate appetite. In a study of 14 healthy women who ate either 80% cocoa [dark chocolate], 35% cocoa [milk chocolate] or cocoa butter [white chocolate], energy intake (food intake) was significantly lower after eating dark chocolate compared with milk and white chocolate.8
Cocoa’s effect on appetite was tested again by a group of scientists who allowed 28 young male subjects to eat all the pizza they wanted, but only after drinking one of three cocoa or flavonoid beverages. They again found that epicatechin combined with a cocoa mixture significantly decreased the men’s pizza intake by a whopping 18.7% – leading the scientists to conclude that epicatechin alone or plus cocoa compounds, may help people control their food intake.9
Even if you don’t want to drink it –just taking a good strong whiff or 2 of cocoa may also help fight the battle of the bulge, by increasing satiety, which was found to be inversely correlated with ghrelin levels, a hormone that increases food intake and fat mass.3
Finally, if you’re the athletic type, you may want to consider CocoaNOL. Though athletes are generally in good health, competitive sports can produce high amounts of oxidative stress and free radical substances that can damage muscles – and cocoa has been shown to help. In a randomized, controlled study of 16 junior athletes, researchers tried to assess the effect of flavonoid antioxidants from cocoa bean extract on the damaged muscle cells of athletes. They found that after practicing regularly for 14 days, a key marker of oxidative stress was reduced in the group that consumed flavonoids, indicating cocoa’s support of musculoskeletal health too.10
Take Home Message
The research clearly supports a wide array of health benefits for those who regularly enjoy cocoa. The key to cocoa’s superfood status lies in the flavanols, especially epicatechin, which support cardiometabolic health, healthy mood, weight management and more. So for those of us looking to add all the amazing health benefits that cocoa has to offer to our daily regimen without the unwanted ingredients in chocolate and enjoy the highest concentration of antioxidant epicatechins, you need look no further than CocoaNOL.
1. Rusconi M, Conti A. Theobroma cacao L., the Food of the Gods: a scientific approach beyond myths and claims. Pharmacological research. 2010;61(1):5-13.
2. Montagna MT, Diella G, Triggiano F, et al. Chocolate, “Food of the Gods”: History, Science, and Human Health. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2019;16(24):4960.
3. Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxidants & redox signaling. 2011;15(10):2779-2811.
4. Garcia JP, Santana A, Baruqui DL, Suraci N. The Cardiovascular effects of chocolate. Reviews in cardiovascular medicine. 2018;19(4):123-127.
5. Persson IA, Persson K, Hägg S, Andersson RG. Effects of cocoa extract and dark chocolate on angiotensin-converting enzyme and nitric oxide in human endothelial cells and healthy volunteers–a nutrigenomics perspective. Journal of cardiovascular pharmacology. 2011;57(1):44-50.
6. Hanhineva K, Törrönen R, Bondia-Pons I, et al. Impact of dietary polyphenols on carbohydrate metabolism. International journal of molecular sciences. 2010;11(4):1365-1402.
7. Martin FP, Rezzi S, Peré-Trepat E, et al. Metabolic effects of dark chocolate consumption on energy, gut microbiota, and stress-related metabolism in free-living subjects. Journal of proteome research. 2009;8(12):5568-5579.
8. Marsh CE, Green DJ, Naylor LH, Guelfi KJ. Consumption of dark chocolate attenuates subsequent food intake compared with milk and white chocolate in postmenopausal women. Appetite. 2017;116:544-551.
9. Greenberg JA, O’Donnell R, Shurpin M, Kordunova D. Epicatechin, procyanidins, cocoa, and appetite: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2016;104(3):613-619.
10. Rasyid HN, Ismiarto YD, Prasetia R. The efficacy of flavonoid antioxidant from chocolate: bean extract: prevention of myocyte damage caused by reperfusion injury in predominantly anaerobic sports. Malaysian orthopaedic journal. 2012;6(3):3-6.