Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

Does Cocoa Carry Health Benefits?

Wednesday, 21 Jul 2010 03:59 PM

Question: I read that cocoa has desirable bioflavonoids and that societies who consume several cocoa drinks a day have extremely long lives. Dark chocolate used to be recommended for its bioflavonoids. But now I read that the chocolate manufacturing process destroys them, leaving the undesirable fat and sugar in chocolate. Do you recommend drinking hot cocoa? If so, is there a preferred powdered cocoa product? And should I stop eating dark chocolate?

Dr. Hibberd's Answer:

Flavonoid intake has been correlated with beneficial heart-healthy effects. Foods rich in cocoa appear to reduce blood pressure according to published research in the April 9, 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine, a JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).You are quite correct that processing cocoa does remove some of the natural flavonoids. Exactly how much is removed is not very clear. The flavonoid contained in dark chocolate and plain cocoa, epicatechin, has been associated with enhanced blood flow, and eating dark chocolate has been found to lower LDL cholesterol levels, at least short-term.

The addition of milk in milk chocolate increases saturated fat levels, and also reduces the overall cocoa content. It may also negate some of cocoa's benefits.

Studies performed by investigators at Harvard Medical School suggest that improved blood flow after consumption of flavonoid-rich cocoa may benefit our brain as well as our heart. This may have important implications for both cardiovascular health as well as important implications for learning and memory.

The longevity claim is not supported by available data. The decision to use chocolate should be a lifestyle choice because you like the flavor, etc. I can’t make a medical recommendation for using cocoa as an effective treatment simply because the data is so sketchy. You need to ask yourself if you believe cocoa has health benefits, and if you like cocoa products enough to incorporate them into your diet. The choice is yours, not mine.

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