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Nothing warms you up like a mug of hot cocoa on a cold day. And it’s not just for kids! Cocoa has been used as a folk medicine for thousands of years, and with good reason! Recent studies have shown cocoa consumption is associated with lower blood pressure, improved blood vessel health, improvement in cholesterol levels, decreased risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes and more! The health benefits go on and on. Find out why hot cocoa is even richer than you thought.
A Brief (and Important) History of Cocoa
The ancient Mayan civilization invented drinkable chocolate. The nibs from the cacao tree were ground into a paste and mixed with water, and then the mixture was poured back and forth between two bowls to give it a frothy consistency. Served cold, cocoa was used for nourishment, and as an energy booster and mood enhancer, and was reserved for important people and sacred ceremonies. They believed the drink possessed mystic qualities. Legendary Aztec leader Montezuma II drank cocoa as a display of power. When Hernan Cortes and his soldiers conquered the Aztecs, they brought the drink to Spain, where they began to serve cocoa hot. From there it spread throughout Europe and eventually the entire world. In the 1700s, trendy chocolate houses in London added milk to the beverage to give it a creamy texture. During the Revolutionary War, and both World War I and II, hot cocoa was given to wounded, sick or tired soldiers to help them recover. It has been a valuable source of sustenance for the American military throughout history. In the middle of the 18th century, Holland invented cocoa powder and it evolved into the versatile cocoa we know and use today.
The Secret to Cocoa’s Magic: Flavonoids
Cocoa is chock-full of polyphenolic flavonoids; antioxidants that have the power to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and even prevent heart disease. The flavonoids in cocoa can also help decrease bad LDL and increase good HDL cholesterol levels, and lower the risk of heart attacks by preventing platelets in your blood from forming clots. And flavonoids have been proven to also help reduce the risk of diabetes. According to recent studies by Harvard researchers, resistance to the hormone insulin was lowered in people who consumed flavonoid-rich cocoa, compared to people in comparison groups, helping to regulate their blood sugar. In addition to being dangerous on its own, diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Research also suggests that flavonoids can help prevent cancer, macular degeneration and general signs of aging by fighting free radicals in the body. And according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, drinking flavonoid-rich hot chocolate can help increase the blood flow and oxygen to the brain, helping to treat and reduce the risk of dementia. Powerful stuff.
More Good News
Flavonoids are commonly found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, and coffee. So what makes cocoa so special? According to a study by Cornell University, the antioxidant concentration in hot cocoa is almost twice as strong as red wine, almost three times stronger green tea, and nearly five times stronger than black tea! Most importantly, more antioxidants are released when the cocoa is heated up. And cocoa generally has much less fat per serving compared to a chocolate bar.
Unfortunately, commercial hot cocoa mixes can contain a lot of extra stuff you don’t want, like artificial vegetable oil, corn syrup, and other additives. Often, cocoa powder isn’t even the first (or second, or third) ingredient on the list. But never fear! It’s easy (and delicious) to make your own healthy hot cocoa from scratch! Just heat up a cup of milk in a saucepan over low heat without letting it boil. Add two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, one tablespoon of honey or agave nectar and stir to blend. Pour into your mug and top with a pinch of cinnamon or a dollop of real whipped cream for a creamy, calcium and flavonoid-rich treat!
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