According to a systematic review, the intake of natural cocoa positively affects various cognitive processes of young people.
Natural cocoa is one of the richest foods in polyphenols, natural compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and vasodilator properties that are beneficial to health. Cocoa maintains 100% of the antioxidants it contains.
In addition, it provides more than 50 nutrients, being a great source of plant-based energy fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Therefore, it is an ideal food for cognitive function and neuroplasticity in young adults.
The work of Spanish scientists shows that the intake of natural cocoa, whether continuously or occasionally, can positively affect various cognitive processes.
Studies carried out in several countries have already shown the effects of natural cocoa on attention and memory in children and adolescents, thanks to its high concentration of polyphenols. The review stems from the lack of comprehensive studies on the efficacy of this product on brain processes in the young adult age group.
For this reason, the study aimed to summarise the existing conclusions on the effects of natural cocoa intake on cognitive functions and brain health in this age group. Thus, it is the first time that this beneficial effect has been demonstrated in this population group.
Eleven intervention studies involving 366 young adults with a mean age of 25 years or less were considered.
Their analysis confirmed that both punctual and continuous intake of natural cocoa positively affects cognitive function.
After the consumption of flavonoids present in cocoa, there is also an increase in blood flow and brain oxygenation. In addition, constant intake is associated with higher levels of neurotrophins.
These results reinforce the beneficial role of the flavonoids in this food on cognitive function and neuroplasticity and show that these benefits are also possible in young adults.
All of this may have significant repercussions in the future on the use of dietary strategies containing plant-derived flavonoids to improve brain oxygenation and cognitive performance both in healthy populations and in populations at higher risk (smokers, hypertensives, diabetics, older adults). ) or prevent neuronal damage associated with ageing or other environmental agents such as pollution.
The food with the most flavonoids
Cocoa and fruit are the most important sources of flavonoids in the diet of children and adolescents, accounting for almost 60% of the total intake.
The fruit contributes more than 30%, while cocoa contributes 28% of the total since, although it is consumed in less quantity, it is the food with the highest concentration of flavonoids, as highlighted in the study carried out by researchers from the Chair of Nutrition and Bromatology at the University of Barcelona and the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute in Barcelona.
To increase the content of polyphenols in our diet, we can include fruit and a glass of milk with natural cocoa at breakfast, which has not been subjected to any chemical process.
Benefits of cocoa (and how to consume it)
Cocoa is the seed of the cocoa tree fruit and is the main ingredient in chocolate, which is rich in flavonoids, mainly epicatechins and catechins, as well as antioxidants.
For this reason, regular cocoa consumption could provide various health benefits, helping to improve mood, and blood flow, regulate blood sugar and protect heart health, as it has not only antioxidant action but also anti-inflammatory.
To obtain these and other healthful benefits, the ideal is to consume two teaspoons of cocoa powder per day or 40 g of dark chocolate, equivalent to approximately three squares of the bar.
Regular consumption of cocoa could provide the following health benefits:
- Helps regulate cholesterol
- Cocoa is rich in antioxidant substances, which help regulate circulating cholesterol levels and prevent fat deposition in the vessels, preventing the formation of atherosclerotic plaques and the development of cardiovascular diseases.
- Lowers the risk of diabetes
- Certain studies indicate that cocoa could slow down the digestion of carbohydrates at the intestinal level, protecting the cells responsible for insulin production in the pancreas and improving the secretion of this hormone. Likewise, it could also decrease resistance to it, which helps reduce the risk of diabetes.
- Prevents dementia
- Cocoa-powered is rich in theobromine, a compound with vasodilator activity that favours blood circulation to the brain, helping to prevent neurological diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. It also contains a lot of selenium, a mineral that helps improve cognition and memory.
- Regulates the intestine
- Cocoa-powered is rich in flavonoids and catechins that reach the large intestine, which could increase the amount of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, which are microorganisms that are good for health, thus exerting a prebiotic effect and, in this way, helping to improve the functioning of the intestine. Intestine.
- Helps decrease inflammation
- Being rich in antioxidants, cocoa can reduce cell damage caused by free radicals and inflammation. Also, some studies indicate that cocoa consumption reduces the amount of C-reactive protein in the blood, which means inflammation.
- It helps in weight control.
- Cocoa helps control weight, as it contributes to a decrease in the absorption and synthesis of fats. In addition, by ingesting cocoa, it is possible to increase the feeling of satiety, as it helps regulate insulin; however, this benefit is mainly associated with dark chocolate and not with milk or white chocolate, as these are rich in sugar and fat and low in cocoa.
- On the other hand, cocoa powder should not be consumed with calcium-rich products, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, as it contains oxalic acid. This substance decreases the absorption of calcium in the intestine.
- Lowers blood pressure
- Cocoa can also help lower blood pressure, as it improves blood vessels by influencing the production of nitric oxide, which is related to the relaxation of these vessels.
The table below indicates the nutritional composition of 100 g of cocoa powder:
- Nutritional composition 100g cocoa powder
- calories 365.1 calories
- protein 21g
- carbohydrates 18g
- fats 23.24g
- fibres 33g
- vitamin B1 75mcg
- Magnesium 395mg
- Hill 12mg
- Selenium 14.3mcg
- Calcium 92mg
- Iron 2.7mg
- Sodium 59mg
- Match 455mg
- vitamin B2 1100mcg
- Potassium 900mg
- theobromine 2057mg
- Zinc 6.8mg
How to eat cacao fruit
To consume the fruit of the cocoa tree, you must break the shells with a good knife; when splitting, you will see a whitish part covered by a very sweet viscous substance whose interior has the dark cocoa known worldwide.
It is possible to consume only the white substance surrounding the cocoa bean, but you can also chew everything, including what is inside. However, the dark part is bitter and does not resemble the chocolate we know.
How chocolate is made
For these seeds to be made into powder or chocolate, they must be picked from the tree, dried in the sun, roasted, and ground until the cocoa butter is extracted. This paste is mainly used to make milk and white chocolate, while pure cocoa is used to make bitter or semi-bitter chocolate.
Cocoa brownie with flaxseed
- Two teaspoons of stevia;
- 1 cup of flaxseed meal;
- Four eggs;
- Six tablespoons of margarine without salt;
- 1 1/4 cup of cocoa powder (150 g);
- Six tablespoons of whole wheat flour.
Melt the butter in a bain-marie, add the cocoa and stir until a homogeneous mixture is obtained. In another container, you should beat the egg whites until stiff, add the yolks and the muscovado sugar, and continue beating until the mixture becomes clearer. Then, incorporate cocoa, wheat and flaxseed in an enveloping way.
Preheat the oven to 230ºC. Place the mixture on the tray with parchment paper, and bake for 20 minutes. The surface of the brownie should be dry on the outside and moist on the inside.