Superfood: Cocoa

Christine Dominguez

What is cocoa?

Cocoa or cacao is harvested from beans produced by the cocoa tree and is what gives chocolate its flavour. The darker the chocolate the more cocoa and less sugar it will contain, so one with 70 % cocoa or more will taste more intense than milk chocolate. Raw ground cocoa is different from many commercial cocoa powders which often contain sugar, emulsifiers and other additives.

What are the health benefits of cocoa?

Like all plant foods, the cacao bean contains a number of health-promoting compounds known as phytochemicals. The phytochemicals that have generated the most interest are the polyphenols, especially flavonols, which may have beneficial cardiovascular effects on health – they keep arteries elastic, lower blood pressure and prevent cholesterol from becoming oxidised, which can decrease the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The health benefits apply mainly to raw cocoa and, to a lesser extent, dark chocolate, since flavonols degrade during the manufacture of chocolate.

The Heart Foundation recommends drinking hot chocolate made from raw cocoa powder (available from some health food shops) as part of a healthy, balanced diet, but points out that consuming milk chocolate or dark chocolate offers only limited benefits in the prevention of cardiovascular disease due to the often high saturated fat and kilojoule content.

Watch Judy Davie, The Food Coach, whip up a lactose-free hot chocolate

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