What are its benefits?
Cocoa is a treat for our taste buds, and because it is rich in antioxidant flavonols and polyphenols, cocoa also is a real treat for our microbiome. It feeds the organisms that can ferment cocoa fiber into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and acetic acid that help to fend off harmful microbes and reinforce the gut barrier against antigens and invaders. The polyphenols found in cocoa enhance the growth of other beneficial gut bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, while reducing the number of pathogenic ones, such as Clostridium perfringens.
Studies on cocoa point to additional benefits:
- Cocoa has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. A study of animals that were fed a high-cocoa diet noted that expression of inflammatory markers was reduced. Another study concluded that the friendly bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been associated with anti-inflammatory processes in our intestines, which can help keep the gut healthy.
- Cocoa is thought to be good for the heart because of fermentation by gut bacteria, creating anti-inflammatory compounds that improve blood vessel function, including arterial flow. It is known that plant polyphenols promote vasodilating factors such as nitric oxide, and cocoa is one of many foods that can increase the production of endothelial nitric oxide.
- Cocoa has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. A 2014 study showed that the polyphenols in chocolate improved insulin sensitivity even in people who did not have diabetes.
What is it?
Cocoa is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao. It can be made into a variety of forms.
- Cocoa liquor is a paste made from ground, roasted, shelled, and fermented cocoa beans, called nibs. It contains both nonfat cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
- Cocoa powder is made by removing some of the cocoa butter from the liquor, leaving nonfat cocoa solids.
Nutritionally, cocoa powder provides:
- Lots of fiber and protein
- B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, thiamin)
- Minerals (manganese, copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and selenium)