Nutrition Tip of the Week

Author: Nadea S. Minet, MS, RD, LD

Week of October 22, 2012

4 Great Uses for Cocoa

Since Sweetest Day was Saturday, October 20th, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the benefits of cocoa.  You’ve probably heard the buzz about the benefits of chocolate, specifically dark chocolate.  Who doesn’t love chocolate? Research has shown people who consume chocolate and/or cocoa more frequently tend to be slimmer than those who indulge less often.  One explanation for this benefit is the antioxidants chocolate contains, including epicatechin, which may help boost metabolism.  Below, we will answer questions you might have about cocoa and how you can make it a part of your daily food intake to obtain all the health benefits it has to offer.

Where Does Chocolate Originate? Chocolate comes from the cocoa plant. There are several different types of chocolate; bitter, sweet, white and powder.  Pressing roasted cocoa kernels or seeds between hot rollers will produce bitter chocolate. Squeezing the fat, also known as cocoa butter, from bitter chocolate and powdering the remaining material produces cocoa powder. Adding sugar and vanilla to bitter chocolate produces sweet chocolate. White chocolate contains sugar, cocoa butter, and milk solids. Dark chocolate contains less sugar than the milk version making it the healthiest option.

Below are 4 great advantages of consuming cocoa on a regular basis:

Heart Helper.  Try treating your heart to some cocoa.  Its flavonoids are linked to a host of cardio benefits including lowering blood pressure, reducing LDL cholesterol (otherwise known as the “bad” cholesterol) and decreasing your overall risk for heart disease in general.  To earn the rewards trying sprinkling unsweetened cocoa powder in your ENS + Protein shake, in your smoothie or protein drink, or on your oatmeal.  You will want to aim for ~1 tablespoon/day to reap the benefits.  This is only adding 12 calories to your calories for the day as opposed to actually eating a chocolate bar, which will add more calories.

Cravings Crusher:  Aim to skip your afternoon treat and try taking a whiff of cocoa instead.  The scent of cocoa powder has a rich indulgent aroma, so often times, simply smelling it will satisfy you.  In fact, research is being done to show the scent of cocoa alone may possibly activate the same neurotransmitters in the brain that are stimulated when eating a piece of chocolate.  Even if you are still yearning for something chocolate after a few whiffs, you will be less likely to indulge because your urge will have been diminished.

Skin Saver.  We have all made past skin mistakes, whether we have stayed out in the sun for too long or we forgot to re-apply our sunscreen and our skin paid the price.  Cocoa can help make past skin transgressions ancient history.  Cocoa is packed with antioxidants that help repair skin cells and neutralize harmful free radicals.  However it’s NOT a substitute for protecting your skin from the sun and it’s damaging effects.  Try mixing up a rejuvenating cocoa mask to reap the skin benefits of cocoa.  In a bowl, combine 1-tablespoon organic cocoa powder, 1-teaspoon honey, 1-tablespoon ground oatmeal, and 2 tablespoons full-fat plain yogurt.  Gently massage onto moist, washed skin.  Leave the mask on for ~10-15 minutes and then rinse off.  Repeat once a week for maximum rewards.

Mood Booster:  Not only does cocoa make your tastes buds happy, it can also make you happy.  Cocoa powder alone contains more than 300 compounds, many of which have a positive effect on your brain chemistry.  Some of these compounds increase your endorphin and serotonin levels.  These generate the feel good feelings and lift your mood.  To feel warm and fuzzy more often, whip up some toasty hot cocoa you can sip on and grin with glee.  As a weight loss surgery patient, you may want to consider sugar-free hot cocoa.

With all these benefits of cocoa discussed, you want to remember everything in moderation is the way to go.  Just because cocoa has all of these wonderful benefits, eating that super-sized Hershey’s bar is not going to be beneficial for your overall health due to the high amount of calories, sugar, and fat.  Opt for the unsweetened cocoa powder to reap the benefits of cocoa without the calories!

Try adding cocoa to your eating plan today and reap all the benefits it has to offer while you also Celebrate your weight loss success.

Eating cocoa is LIKELY SAFE for most people. Cocoa does contain caffeine and related chemicals and as research has shown, eating large amounts might cause caffeine-related side effects, which include but are not limited to nervousness, increased urination, sleeplessness, and a fast heartbeat.  Cocoa can also cause allergic skin reactions, constipation, and might trigger migraine headaches. It can also cause digestive complaints including nausea, intestinal discomfort, stomach rumbling, and gas.  If you experience any of these symptoms, notify your doctor and/or health care professional immediately.

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