"The superiority of chocolate (hot chocolate), both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain..."
-Thomas Jefferson (1785)
Talk about prescience! How did Mr. Jefferson know the truth back then, and when did he tell Mom about it? Remember those days when you and your friends came stamping in after a shivering January afternoon on the local sledding hill? Didn't your mother have a steaming mug of hot cocoa waiting on the kitchen table - with a plate of cookies, too, if you were lucky? Did you like hot cocoa back then? Do you miss warming your hands on the mug, or giving your sister a silly chocolate mustache grin?
There are but a few things in childhood that can be enjoyed as an adult without drawing strange looks from your family. According to experts, sipping on hot cocoa is no longer just for the very young.
Researchers at the University of Cologne performed a meta-analysis of studies monitoring the change in blood pressure after ingesting either tea or cocoa for two to four weeks. Their conclusions:
[The studies] gauged the effects of both cocoa and tea on 523 persons with high blood pressure over two-week and four-week periods. It found that cocoa -- not tea -- proved the more beneficial for them. Four of the five trials involving cocoa drinkers revealed a reduction in blood pressure by an average 4.7 millimeters of mercury for systolic (top number) and an average 2.8 millimeters lower for diastolic (lower number), compared with those who didn't drink cocoa.
"At the population level, a reduction of 4 to 5 millimeters of mercury in systolic blood pressure and 2 to 3 millimeters of mercury in diastolic blood pressure would be expected to substantially reduce the risk of stroke by about 20 percent, coronary heart disease by 10 percent and all-cause mortality by 8 percent," Dr. Dirk Taubert said.
What the heck is in cocoa, anyway, that makes it better than tea in reducing the ol' B.P.? Both products are rich in flavonoids, but cocoa contains the flavonoid proanthocyanidin, whereas tea has a different compound, theaflavin. So what?
"This suggests that the different plant phenols must be differentiated with respect to their blood pressure-lowering potential and thus cardiovascular disease prevention, supposing that the tea phenols are less active than cocoa phenols," the authors write.
So the flavonoids in cocoa may reduce the risk of hypertension. Thanks, Mom! If you are still not convinced let me introduce you to Dr. Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hollenberg, who has spent years studying the Kuna Indians who live on the San Blas Islands of Panama, thinks they have a secret to a long life. What, pray tell, do the Kuna indigenous people do that has attracted such interest from American researchers?
Kuna Indians who live on islands near Panama have little age-related rise in blood pressure or hypertension. On migration to Panama City, blood pressure rises with age, and the frequency of essential hypertension matches urban levels elsewhere. We have identified a specific food that probably makes an important contribution to cardiovascular status. Island-dwelling Kuna drink more than 5 cups of flavanol-rich cocoa [my italics] per day and incorporate that cocoa into many recipes. Mainland Kuna ingest little cocoa, and what they take is commercially available and flavanol-poor. The flavanol-rich cocoa activates nitric oxide synthase in vitro and in intact humans in the doses that the Kuna employ.
Come on, you giants of the chocolate industry - goose the R & D department to develop and unleash a torrent of flavonoid-rich cocoa products on all of us unhealthy citizens. Hey, it beats exercising! (Did I just say that?)