Cocoa, an ingredient used for nearly 4000 years in Latin America, landed in Spain around 1528. Since then, it has clearly become a staple in the kitchen, and for good reason. Cocoa itself offers magnificent benefits (in addition to the simple joy of tasting it). As for chocolate, unfortunately it will be mixed with multiple ingredients, which alone spoil the benefits that this delicious food brings us. It is often necessary to bet more on quality than on quantity.
(see section ofchocolates on the fitfitfit.fit store, which offers a nice selection of quality products)
Here are the health benefits of cocoa
Cocoa contains many biologically active compounds. Indeed, it is rich in polyphenols, phytochemicals including flavonoids and having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Thanks to these properties, cocoa has been the subject of several studies to determine whether it may have beneficial effects on health. Here are the observations of three reviews of the literature that have studied the effects of cocoa on different aspects of health: inflammation, cognitive performance and the gut microbiota.
A first review of the literature, carried out by De Feoet al., analyzed several studies to determine the state of the science regarding the anti-inflammatory effect of the flavonoids in cocoa. Among the studies analyzed, one of them, performed on rats, observed that the inclusion of cocoa as a dietary supplement increased circulating levels of various peptides with anti-inflammatory properties. The authors also find that it prevents inflammation by inhibiting the expression of certain inflammatory proteins. However, there are still no clinical trials supporting these findings in humans. Therefore, more studies are needed to determine efficacy in humans.
A second literature review, written by Martinet al., investigated the short-term and long-term effects of cocoa flavanols, a subfamily of flavonoids, on cognitive functions and brain health in young adults (average age of around 25 years) . On the one hand, the results of the studies analyzed show that short-term consumption of cocoa (<4 hours) seems to produce an increase in cerebral blood circulation. On the other hand, the results observe that long-term consumption of cocoa (at least 5 days) seems to lead to better cognitive performance. In addition, most of the results of the studies analyzed show a positive effect of the flavanols present in cocoa on the cognitive functions of young adults. According to the review authors, this suggests that consuming cocoa powder or products rich in cocoa flavanols may be a way to prevent cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. However, the fact remains that the data available on the subject are scarce and that more studies are needed to strengthen these observations.
The intestinal microbiota
In the third literature review, Sorrentiet al. studied the interactions between cocoa polyphenols and the gut microbiota. In this review, the authors explain that cocoa polyphenols are poorly absorbed from the intestine in their original form. These must be broken down into their bioactive compounds in order to carry out their activities in the body. It is in the intestine that this decomposition occurs. Indeed, once in the intestine, the bacteria of the intestinal microbiota degrade cocoa polyphenols into their bioactive compounds. The results of the studies analyzed show that cocoa polyphenols and their bioactive compounds influence the composition of the microbiota. Indeed, they promote the growth of good intestinal bacteria and reduce the number of pathogenic bacteria. However, more studies are needed to better define the mechanism of action governing interactions between cocoa polyphenols and the gut microbiota, and to establish their effects on human health.
Scientific literature seems to observe that certain components of cocoa could have beneficial effects on health. However, as mentioned by the three reviews of the literature, more studies are still needed to strengthen these observations. Indeed, subsequent studies are required to more precisely identify the bioactive compounds present in cocoa, analyze their mechanism of action and establish their efficacy in humans through clinical trials.
- De Feo, M., Paladini, A., Ferri, C., Carducci, A., Del Pinto, R., Varrassi, G., & Grassi, D. (2020). Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Nociceptive Effects of Cocoa: A Review on Future Perspectives in Treatment of Pain.Pain and therapy,9(1), 231240. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40122-020-00165-55
- Martín, M. A., Goya, L., & de Pascual-Teresa, S. (2020). Effect of Cocoa and Cocoa Products on Cognitive Performance in Young Adults.Nutrients,12(12), 3691. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12123691
- Sorrenti, V., Ali, S., Mancin, L., Davinelli, S., Paoli, A., & Scapagnini, G. (2020). Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health.Nutrients,12(7), 1908. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12071908
Article written by:
Marie-Noël Marsan, Nutritionist