Chocolate and Health

Does Cocoa Have Any Benefit For Our Body?

Let’s start our article with an interesting story. The Spaniards stole tons of gold and silver from the Incas living in present-day Chile and Peru in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. However, it was not easy for them to move the stolen gold to Spain. Chile and Peru were on the Pacific Ocean, and Spain on the Atlantic Ocean. The narrowest piece of land where loot could be transported between the two oceans was the territory of Panama. They had the transportation done by the Kuna Indians living here. The life expectancy of these natives, who worked in very difficult conditions in the forest area, was very short. Unable to withstand these conditions, some of the Kuna Indians fled and settled in the San Blas Islands.

Panama Canal and an Observation

During the construction of the Panama Canal, an American Military Corps was present as an observer. Among the workers were the Kuna Indians. The unit’s medic noticed something interesting. The blood pressures of the Kuna Indians were much lower than those of other working workers. I wonder if low blood pressure is caused by a genetic feature or an environmental factor? The majority of Kuna Indians lived on the San Blas islands, where the most abundant food was the seeds of the cacao tree. The inhabitants of the islands consumed the food obtained from cocoa beans in abundance.

In 2007, Hollenberk and colleagues conducted a study at the University of Panama School of Medicine. They studied causes of death in mainland Panamanian residents and those living on the San Blas Islands, which are inhabited only by the Kuna Indians. While cardiovascular diseases and cancer were among the causes of death for those living in Panama, the Kuna Indians living on the island had much less death from cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Could this have something to do with cocoa?

Cocoa, Cocoa and Chocolate

The name of the cocoa plant is Theobroma cacao. We call the unprocessed seeds of this plant cocoa and we call the powder form of these beans after roasting and grinding cocoa powder or simply cocoa. Chocolate, on the other hand, is a food obtained by adding sugar and oil to the cocoa powder after various processes. Although chocolate is a popular food, it has been an item that those who want to live a healthy and fit life for a long time stay away from. However, in recent years, studies on the beneficial effects of cocoa and chocolate on health have been increasing.

Useful Ingredients in Cocoa Powder (Cocoa)

Cocoa has been used in medicine for about 500 years. The seeds contain flavonoids, a subgroup of polyphenol antioxidants. Catechin and epicatechin flavanols are important. In recent years, the beneficial effects of herbal flavanols on human cells have been investigated. In humans, a substance called nitric oxide maintains the integrity of the vessels. As oxidative stress increases, nitric oxide cannot do its job adequately and the structure of the vessels deteriorates. Narrowing and constriction (vasoconstriction) increases in vessels with impaired structure. This triggers cardiovascular system diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes. High amounts of flavanols in cocoa powder increase nitric oxide production. Increasing nitric oxide causes the blood vessels to dilate and lowers blood pressure. Significant vasodilation has been observed in healthy humans when high doses of flavanol-containing cocoa powder (cocoa) are given for 4 days. However, when cocoa powder containing a low amount of flavanols was given, the same vasodilation was not detected.

Chocolate Blood Pressure Relationship

Studies have shown that even small amounts of chocolate can lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. This effect occurs when the amount of flavanols in chocolate is high. Flavanols are highest in cocoa tree seeds. Every treatment (including roasting and grinding) of these seeds reduces the amount of flavanols. Especially the sugar and additional processes used while making chocolate reduce the amount of flavanols. Milk chocolate has less flavanols than dark chocolate. However, not every sugar-free and dark chocolate is rich in flavanols. If chocolate is blackened by a method called alkalization, the flavanols are destroyed.

Which Chocolate Is Good For Health?

Chocolates containing high amounts of flavanols have beneficial effects. We can list these benefits as follows:

However, in order to provide these benefits, chocolate must contain large amounts of flavanols. For this, the following are required:

  • It causes dilation of blood vessels (vasodilation).
  • lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces the rate of cardiovascular diseases
  • Lowers the rate of diabetes
  • In those with congestive heart failure, it improves vascular functions and reduces platelet (also called thrombocyte) functions (platelets provide clotting, flavanols slow it down).

Cocoa beans should be processed as little as possible.

  • No sugar
  • No dairy
  • Except for pure olive oil, it must not contain any other oil.

However, it would be appropriate to consider that the chocolate with the above features will not have a taste that can be eaten with pleasure.


If chocolate (and cocoa) contains flavanols, it is beneficial for health. However, this is possible with a special effort (and additional cost) from the chocolate makers. Otherwise, consuming plenty of chocolate may not do any good other than causing weight gain and related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and diabetes.