Raw cocoa, and to some extent good quality dark chocolate, has many health properties.
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
Flavonoids in cocoa are powerful antioxidants. They limit oxidative stress that damages tissues by reducing free radicals (ROS) and activating antioxidant enzymes. Its polyphenols are anti-inflammatory: they inhibit inflammatory enzymes (COX-2 type) and decrease the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. 1,2
Learn more about the impact of inflammation
Benefits for the skin
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa are beneficial to the skin. They offer protection against UV rays and limit the signs of ageing. In fact, some clinical studies highlighted a reduction in the harmful effect of UV rays, a slight reduction in wrinkles and an improvement in the elasticity, density and blood circulation of the skin. 3,4,5 These effects on skin tone may be related to the fact that polyphenols have a positive impact on the maintenance of glycosaminoglycans and collagen in the skin. 6 Cocoa may also be useful in treating certain skin problems, such as acne or psoriasis, and promoting healing.1
The many health benefits of cocoa
Cocoa is packed with many minerals, including magnesium, copper and iron, which are necessary for the proper functioning of our entire body. It is also rich in theobromine, an alkaloid which is also present in tea and coffee and which has antioxidant properties and many health benefits: it helps reduce cholesterol (total and LDL), relaxes the lungs, stimulates the heart and reduces cardiovascular risks. Cocoa is also effective in limiting insulin resistance and preventing the risk of diabetes and metabolic diseases. It could act as an antidepressant, neuronal protector, cognitive stimulant and mood enhancer, thanks in particular to its antioxidant properties. Its anti-inflammatory action is very useful in limiting allergies and it can modulate the immune system. Raw cocoa may even limit weight gain and promote the arrival of glucose in the muscles. 1,2,7,8 (Muscle cells, like all other cells, need glucose to function. By increasing the absorption of glucose into muscles, muscle activity rises.)
A note of caution
Please note that most of these studies were done with cocoa beans. To make chocolate, the beans are roasted (loss of certain elements), crushed and ground, cocoa butter is removed, and sugar and possibly milk are added. The properties of chocolate are therefore not the same as those of raw cocoa. If you eat chocolate, it is better to choose dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa and consume it in small quantities. Hot (or cold) chocolate powders, even if they are called cocoa, do not share all health properties of raw cocoa, since other ingredients are added, such as sugar and milk.
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- Scapagnini, G. et al. Cocoa bioactive compounds: Significance and potential for the maintenance of skin health. Nutrients vol. 6 3202–3213 (2014).
- Katz, D. L., Doughty, K. & Ali, A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxidants and Redox Signaling vol. 15 2779–2811 (2011).
- Mogollon, J. A. et al. Chocolate flavanols and skin photoprotection: A parallel, double-blind, randomized clinical trial. Nutrition Journal 13, 66 (2014).
- Yoon, H. S. et al. Cocoa flavanol supplementation influences skin conditions of photo-aged women: A 24-week double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Nutrition 146, 46–50 (2016).
- Heinrich, U., Neukam, K., Tronnier, H., Sies, H. & Stahl, W. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. Journal of Nutrition 136, 1565–1569 (2006).
- Gasser, P. et al. Cocoa polyphenols and their influence on parameters involved in ex vivo skin restructuring. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 30, 339–345 (2008).
- Latif, R. Health benefits of cocoa. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care vol. 16 669–674 (2013).
- Andújar, I., Recio, M. C., Giner, R. M. & Ríos, J. L. Cocoa polyphenols and their potential benefits for human health. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity vol. 2012 (2012).