Cocoa Beans Health Benefits
Cocoa beans health benefits include activity against prostate cancer cells and antioxidant properties that make them helpful in improving heart health, mood, and digestion. Also referred to as cacao beans, cocoa beans (Theobroma cacao) are the fruit of the cacao or cocoa tree, an evergreen native to South America and the West Indies.
Cocoa beans are about 1 inch long, and considered to be a culinary nut. Cocoa solids, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter are derived from cacao beans, and these products are used to make chocolate and chocolate-based foods, such as mole sauce. Both chocolate and cocoa contain a high amount of flavonoids. These include the antioxidant epicatechin, among others, which are responsible for cocoa beans health benefits.
Cocoa Beans Health Benefits and Nutrients
Cocoa beans health benefits are related to its high antioxidant content. They also are an excellent source of magnesium, sulfur, and healthy fats. Antioxidants in cocoa may help reduce blood pressure, improve circulation, enhance digestion, and protect against cell damage from free radicals. These cocoa beans health benefits offer protection against heart disease and cancer. Magnesium helps relax muscles and nerves, promotes blood circulation, and strengthens bones.
Cocoa beans also contain theobromine, a chemical related to caffeine that stimulates the central nervous system. Theobromine also relaxes smooth muscles (and is sometimes used to treat asthma), dilates blood vessels, and has diuretic properties. Two other substances in cocoa beans have an effect on mood. Anandamide is called the “bliss” chemical because it makes people feel great when it is released by the brain. The anandamide in cocoa helps the chemical stay in the body longer and improve mood. Phenylethylamine (PEA) is a type of plant-based stimulant that may help improve depression.
Cocoa products are among the richest sources of polyphenols, according to the Phenol-Explorer Database. (Perez-Jimenez 2010) Raw cocoa beans, powder, and nibs (peeled, crushed cocoa beans) are far superior to chocolate candy. For example, compared with a regular chocolate bar, which contains about 500 milligrams of antioxidants per 100 grams of chocolate, cocoa nibs (the peeled, crushed cocoa beans) contain 10 grams of antioxidants per 100 grams of beans. Cocoa nibs also contain high levels of theobromine. Dark chocolate contains lesser amounts of polyphenols because these nutrients degrade during processing. Milk chocolate has even lower levels of antioxidants, because whole milk reduces the overall cocoa content while increasing the levels of saturated fat.
A Harvard Medical School research team studied the effects of cocoa and flavanols among Panama’s Kuna Indians, who consume a great deal of cocoa. Compared with their peers living on the mainland, where cocoa is much less popular, the Kuna Indians had significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Scientists attribute these cocoa beans health benefits to enhanced blood flow associated with the flavanols in cocoa, advantages that may also improve brain function. (Bayard 2007)
An analysis of cocoa beans reported on the levels of the antioxidants epicatechin and catechin. Epicatechin levels were 29 percent higher in unripe cocoa beans compared with ripe beans, and both had the same level of catechin. (Payne 2010) Another study published several years earlier reported that cocoa had much higher concentrations of antioxidants than other popular sources, including green tea, black tea, and red wine. (Lee 2003)
Cocoa and Prostate Health
Some research indicates that cocoa beans have anticancer abilities. In a study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, a scientific team examined the impact of the antioxidants in cocoa beans, especially beta-sitosterol, against prostate cancer cells. The researchers found that the highest concentrations of beta-sitosterol provided totally inhibited the growth of both metastatic and non-metastatic human prostate cancer cell lines. (Jourdain 2006)
How To Enjoy Cocoa Beans Health Benefits
Cocoa beans can be used raw or ground into powder that can be used to make tea, as a substitute for coffee, or added to recipes. Raw cocoa nibs can be added to oatmeal or cereal, blended into smoothies or herbal teas, or included in trail mix. In its natural form, cocoa rarely causes allergic reactions, unlike chocolate, which some people react to because of dairy and/or chemicals in the chocolate.
Watch video ‘Raw Cacao & The Cacao Health Benefits’
Bayard V et al. Does flavanol intake influence mortality from nitric oxide-dependent processes? Ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, and cancer in Panama. Int J Med 2007;4(1): 53-58
Jourdain C et al. In vitro effects of polyphenols from cocoa and [beta]-sitosterol on the growth of human prostate cancer and normal cells. Eur J Cancer Prev 2006 Aug; 15(4): 353-61
Lee KW et al. Cocoa has more phenolic phytochemicals and a higher antioxidant capacity than teas and red wine. J Agric Food Chem 2003; 51(25): 7292-95
Payne MJ et al. Impact of fermentation, drying, roasting, and Dutch processing on epicatechin and catechin content of cacao beans and cocoa ingredients. J Agric Food Chem 2010 Oct 13; 58(19): 10518-27
Perez-Jimenez J et al. Identification of the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols: an application of the Phenol-Explorer database. Eur J Clin Nutr 2010 Nov; 64 Suppl 3:S112-20