Cocoa - Chocolatey Healthy Goodness!

At Monk Nutrition love Cocoa, in fact we love it so much that Agave#9 Cocoa was our very first energy gel! Not only do we think cocoa tastes amazing, it's also packed full of health and nutrition benefits. Get ready to dive into the chocolatey world of cocoa goodness!

A woman wearing a yellow polka dot dress eating chocolate cake.

I've been eating chocolate for as long as I can remember!

Cocoa powder is made by crushing cocoa beans and removing the fat or cocoa butter. It's most famously used in chocolate production, and was first thought to have been used by the Maya civilisation in Central America. Cocoa was introduced into Europe by the Spanish, who discovered cocoa after their conquering expeditions in the 16th century, and we've been using it as a health promoting medicine and treat ever since!

Believe it or not, it's not only used in one of the most popular products on the planet (Agave#9 Cocoa Energy Gels...maybe one day - haha) but seriously, cocoa genuinely has some pretty amazing health benefits. We've compiled a few below, and also debunked some myths along the way - most of which you've probably heard growing up as a kid from your parents...bring on the Cocoa!

A person wearing trainers with the words 'heart' written on one trainer and 'mind' written on the other.

THE FACT's: Healthy Mind. Healthy Body. Healthy Soul.

Cocoa is rich in Polyphenols. Not sure what polyphenols can do? Here's a little list:
1. Lower blood pressure.
2. Improve artery (endothelial) function.
3. Prevent platelet clumping.
4. Improve arterial flexibility.
5. Improved life span.

Cocoa is one of the richest sources of polyphenols on the planet, and is loaded with flavanols which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. They can help with blood sugar too! We combined organic agave syrup with cocoa powder in our organic Agave#9 Cocoa Energy Gels to create a low glycemic energy source that can be used safely by diabetics, and we've worked with pro-diabetic cycling teams throughout the world to prove it.

We source cocoa powder from Tanzania, which is known for being arguably the best region in the world for the production of high quality cocoa. The reason we source globally on ingredients is because we believe flavour and quality are the number one priority. Processing and heating cocoa can cause it to lose its beneficial properties, it’s also often treated with alkaline to reduce bitterness which results in a 60% decrease in flavanol content. This is why sourcing is critical, as not all products containing cocoa will provide the same benefits. Before diving for your nearest chocolate bar, make sure it's at least 70% Cocoa, as anything lower will have lost a significant amount of flavanol content.

Flava-What?

Cocoa flavanols have been shown to improve blood vessel function, helping to support the health and function of the cardiovascular system. Flavanols and their related molecules, procyanidins, are compounds that are made by linking 2 or more flavanol molecules to form chain-like structures that commonly contain between 2 and 10 flavanol units. Cocoa flavanols are not always found or guaranteed in consistent amounts in all cocoa or chocolate based products, this is due to how the cocoa bean is processed as we mentioned earlier.

Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide is a compound produced in the body that triggers the muscles in the arterial wall to relax. Research shows nitric oxide's central role in modulating cardiovascular health, and in the modern day gym world, nitric oxide is known for delivering 'The Pump' and is a key component in pre-workout drinks thanks to the improved blood flow and supply to the muscles and brain.

Improved Mood

It would appear that cocoa has a positive impact on the brain! Studies have shown it may improve mood and symptoms of depression thanks to cocoa’s flavanols. Studies are still in their early stages, with more research on the effect of cocoa on mood and depression needed, but personally I know I'm always much happier after a bit of chocolate!

Blood Sugar

The latest test-tube studies indicate that cocoa flavanols can slow down carbohydrate digestion and absorption in the gut, improve insulin secretion, reduce inflammation and stimulate the uptake of sugar out of the blood into the muscle. Some studies have shown that a higher intake of flavanols, including those from cocoa, can result in a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, a review of human studies showed that eating flavanol-rich dark chocolate or cocoa can reduce insulin sensitivity, improve blood sugar control and reduce inflammation in diabetic and non-diabetic people. We have previously worked with Team Type 1 diabetic pro cycling team, providing Agave#9 Cocoa Energy Gels to fuel their rides, thanks to the low glycemic effect of the energy gel meaning the riders can focus on riding.

Pieces of chocolate with the words 'hello' written on them.

THE MYTH's: Monk HQ Top Tip - Don't let your kids read this...

Cocoa gives you acne

You've no doubt heard this a million times growing up, when in fact, cocoa in chocolate is not a cause of acne! Cocoa polyphenols have been found to provide significant benefits for your skin and the long-term ingestion of cocoa has been shown to contribute to sun protection, skin blood circulation and improve the surface texture and hydration of your skin. Cocoa can also promote healthy teeth by fighting bacteria that cause cavities (this does not apply to sugar-containing products).

Cocoa makes you fat

Current research shows that cocoa may help in regulating the use of energy, reduce appetite and inflammation, increase fat oxidisation and create feelings of fullness. Remember folks, it's all about moderation and being part of healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle.

Cocoa beans scattered across a table with cocoa powder in a small dish.

To summarise

The benefits of Cocoa have been studied and proven for decades. Whilst some theories require further research, the continued study and subsequent knowledge gained is set to benefit us all. One thing we can say for certain is that moderation is key, in all aspects of life! Chocolate contains significant amounts of sugar and fats, so make sure you stick to reasonable sized portions. Over consumption of food, drink and even exercise can be detrimental to the body, even with the best of intentions at heart. The key is always to find balance and and look after your Monk Monastery...remember, it's the only one you'll get!

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