Health Benefits of Hot Cocoa

hot cocoaA cup of hot cocoa may do more than keep you warm on a cold winter night. Chocolate is rich in antioxidants which help prevent cardiovascular disease and help the body fight against free radicals that can damage cells.

Cocoa is rich in flavonoids, which are compounds produced by plants that have been shown to have health benefits. Flavonoids reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing blood pressure and improving blood vessels. Consuming foods that are high in flavonoids reduces inflammation and help prevent insulin resistance, which can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.

History of Hot Cocoa

Hot chocolate is a heated beverage made from shaved chocolate, melted chocolate buds, or cocoa powder mixed with sugar and heated milk or water.

It is believed that the first chocolate beverage was created by the Mayans about 2000 years ago, which was a mixture of cocoa seed paste, water, cornmeal, and chili peppers. The drink was served cold. The Aztec version, which became an essential part of their culture around 1400 AD, was a bitter, spicy drink that was believed to have medicinal properties, to fight fatigue, and enhance mood.

Hot chocolate became popular in Europe after it was introduced through contact with the new world. Europeans used sugar instead of chili pepper to create a sweet tasting beverage that became a luxury item that only the nobility could afford.

In the 1800’s, cocoa powder was developed in the Netherlands by separating the greasy cocoa butter from the cocoa seeds. The powder was easier to stir into milk or water and was lower in fat because the cocoa butter was removed.

Did You Know?

During the 16th century Europeans visiting the Americas considered hot chocolate to be an acquired taste. Sugar was not yet routinely available and the newcomers found the spicy, bitter drink to be unpleasant.

Maximizing the Health Benefits of Cocoa

In general, the less processed the cocoa is, the more nutrients it contains. Cocoa in its raw form has four times the antioxidants as processed cocoa. It is available at health foods stores and will taste bitter, but you can add sugar or honey to sweeten it. The general rules when looking for cocoa powder are:

  • The darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains.
  • The higher cocoa content, the more antioxidants it contains.
  • The less sugar, the better it is for your overall health.

Chocolate in general contains saturated fat and sugar, so remember that moderation is the key. Look for hot cocoas that are lower in fat and sugar and use low-fat or nonfat milk to prepare it, thereby increasing the nutritional punch of this tasty beverage!

Here is a nutritious and simple recipe:

Favorite Hot Cocoa

Ingredients:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation:
Mix cocoa, sugar, water and salt in a saucepan. Over medium heat, stir constantly until mixture boils. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Stir in the milk and heat, but do not boil. Remove from heat and add vanilla; blend well. Serve immediately.

Enjoy the health benefits of more cocoa containing recipes.