Is it possible to succumb to the temptation of cocoa without the scale being put to the surface? It is possible, but we must adhere to some guidelines and, above all, distinguish between what is the original cocoa of what is a chocolateyfood, with milk, vegetable oils and sugars. Separate the raw material from the processing, in short. Then we must know how not to be wrong to buy it and, finally, not to go with the dose (as we already have in BuenaVida, works as a drug and can even cause withdrawal syndrome).
"Taking natural cocoa in childhood can help prevent neurological problems in adulthood thanks to the contribution of polyphenols", explains Sonia de Pascual-Teresa, scientific head of the Department of Metabolism and Nutrition of the Institute of Science and Food and Nutrition Technology (ICTAN), of the National Research Council (CSIC), "In addition to the benefits it has immediately at the level of cognitive performance." But not everything goes.
Idoia Ibero, PhD in food, physiology and health at the University of Navarra, has analyzed the benefits of cocoa in our diet from the Nutrition Research Centre. And before giving more details, he explains: "When we talk about cocoa, we don't mean chocolate. Chocolate is a derivative of cocoa, ie it is a product that contains cocoa, but also added other ingredients.
How to choose the right chocolate: purity, additives and color
It is difficult to find this product in its genuine state between a tangle of other processed ones. what is offered as "pasta" or "powder" of cocoa is usually mixed with milk or even with corn starch. Labeled "pure" adds about 375 calories per 100 grams; With about 16 grams of fat, 16 of carbohydrates and 26 of proteins; While a typical "superfine chocolate" can reach 538 calories per 100 grams, and increase considerably the amount of carbohydrates and fats (about 58 and 31 grams, respectively) and reduce, by counter, the contribution of proteins: to about 6.5 Grams.
How to distinguish one from another? As always, the packaging must be fixed; Do not listen to persuasive signs or believe everything they exclaim. Let's see examples: it is in vogue to remark the percentage of cocoa that carries the tablet: 70%, 85%... "The chocolate that shows health benefits is black," highlights Ibero. "And the more pure or higher cocoa content you have, the better: at least 70%."
Yes, the degree of purity does not exempt sugar or lard from being added. "Chocolate is made up of several ingredients among which are mainly pasta and cocoa butter. These can be added as sugar, milk, nuts, fruits, etc., which create an infinite variety of products, "enumerates Ibero.
In those promoted as "no additives", for example, it is mentioned that they are suitable for diabetics, something unthinkable in the other options. Ibero finished with this advice: "Avoid chocolates such as white and milk chocolate and opt for the purchase of a black chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa."
Improves concentration and memory and is neuroprotective
Well chosen the raw material, let's look at their properties. Known is that "cocoa has a high antioxidant capacity thanks to the content of phenolic compounds, mainly thanks to the content of flavanols, a type of polyphenols characteristic of this food," he wields Ibero. It refers to micronutrients that protect cell oxidation and can also be found in fruit or wine.
"Several scientific studies attribute to these antioxidants benefits mainly at the metabolic and cardiovascular level", explains Ibero, "Besides that they act on the immune system, the microbiota, the reduction of the inflammation, the Neuroprotection and the reduction of oxidative stress. "
In addition to the flavonoids, cocoa "has a molecule called theobromine, with great capacity vasodilator and able to reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular risk," adds Javier Marhuenda, professor at the University San Antonio de Murcia (UCAM ) and academician of number of the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
There are more benefits. "Pure cocoa stands out for its great mineral content, especially magnesium, which improves concentration and memory among other virtues," says Marhuenda. "It can also favour intestinal transit due to its high fiber content. Its protein content is not excessively high, but it does have a high concentration of tryptophan, an amino acid that increases serotonin synthesis and relates to the typical sense of well-being associated with chocolate intake. " That is: "As a counterpoint, we could indicate its relatively high amount of fat and saturated fatty acids, comparing it with other fiber-rich plant foods."
Less well-known is perhaps the capacity of cocoa polyphenols to prevent neurological problems in adulthood if they are incorporated into the diet from childhood, a fact that Sonia de Pascual-Teresa, from ICTAN-CSIC, contributed during the last international Congress of the Mediterranean diet, held in Barcelona last month. "This substance dilates the arteries and increases the amount of blood that reaches the brain, thus improving mental performance."
Science continues to advance and investigate possible benefits of cocoa. At Harvard University, a team led by researcher JoAnn Manson has proposed — under the name of Cosmos — a large-scale consultation, with 18,000 people for four years, to bring to light those properties. "Until now, all the surveys have been inconclusive by the size of the samples," said the co-director, who seeks to decipher the enigma of the Flanavoles and to use the results to even elaborate supplements with this product.
Not by eating more you'll get more benefits (backwards)
The question is how much to eat so that the effect does not go from a good range of benefits to being negative for our health. "Although black chocolate is a food that we can consume for all the benefits attributed to it, we must not forget that it has a high energy density and that, as with other foods, excessive consumption is not healthy" , he warns Ibero.
The researcher mentions EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) to express that "the consumption of 200 milligrams per day of cocoa flavanols contributes to maintaining an adequate endothelial function — the tissue covering the inner area of the vessels Blood-, which translates to 2.5 grams of cocoa powder rich in flavanols or 10 grams of rich chocolate in flavanols [one ounce a day, two if very small]. " And he clarifies that "their consumption can be included in a healthy diet along with a lifestyle that also takes into account the practice of physical exercise."
Marhuenda insists that the problem of "the vast majority of cocoa products" lies in the "incorporating a much higher percentage of sugar and butter or cocoa fat than pure cocoa" because its original flavor is bitter. "Precisely because of this poor quality of commercial cocoas, their consumption is totally dispensable in the diet."
"A cocoa product with 95% to 99% purity preserves all the benefits and this product could be consumed about 10 grams — one ounce — even on a daily basis in a balanced and healthy diet," estimates the dietitian-nutritionist, "Yes, we must have in Note that this intake should reduce the consumption of other sugary foods and I would not recommend it daily because we can get the same benefits by consuming fruits, vegetables, Whole Foods, legumes... ".
Alone or with milk? Javier Fontecha, CSIC scientific researcher at the Institute of Food Research (CIAL) of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) approved his intake since childhood and argues that the best option is to take it with milk: "With the incorporation of dairy The diet we provide practically all the nutrients that guarantee an optimal growth and development: carbohydrates, proteins of high biological value, fats, vitamins A, B2, B12 and D and minerals, mainly calcium and phosphorus but also magnesium, Potassium and zinc. "
Chocolate without remorse, as long as we look at the label and control the quantities.