Since the Mayan and Toltec cultures, cocoa has been recognized for its benefits to human health. This basic ingredient of chocolate contains phytochemicals, antioxidant substances produced by the plant for its protection, which has an anti-inflammatory effect on humans, said María del Carmen Iñarritu Pérez, professor of the Department of Public Health of the UNAM's School of Medicine (FM).
Chocolate has nitric oxide, which improves blood flow in the veins and, consequently, there is less reproduction of blood clots that could cause embolisms. In this way, it helps cardiovascular health and improves blood pressure. With better blood flow there is a good cognitive function of memory, in addition to neurogenesis (the process in which new neurons are generated), and helps to reduce neurodegeneration (loss of neurons). In short, it optimizes memory and cognition, especially in older adults.
In turn, antioxidants protect cell membranes and help reduce cell damage. Cocoa also contains fiber and substances that improve intestinal flora and, at the same time, help strengthen the immune system. Bitter or semi-bitter, which contains a higher amount of cocoa (70 to 80 percent), provides more health benefits, both physical and emotional.
Pre-Hispanic cultures used cocoa as currency, and it was important in some rituals. As a food, it was intended only for the upper classes. It was also consumed by people who were sad because it was considered a mood-enhancing food.
The reason is that chocolate contains sensory substances, that is, that texture of flavor that melts in the mouth and gives us a sense of reward and feeling good. In addition, caffeine helps to improve mood and reduce fatigue; theobromine works as an antidepressant.
Another substance is salsolinol, a derivative of dopamine that functions as a neurotransmitter and plays an important role in the brain's reward system. "That is why when we eat chocolate we feel more cheerful," said the specialist.
Common chocolates have only 20 to 25 percent cocoa, so their benefits are lower, although the number of calories they contain due to sugar and milk are higher. In the case of white chocolate, it contains mainly cocoa butter.
The researcher recommends consuming a 10-gram bar of bitter or semi-bitter chocolate every day but containing at least 70 to 80 percent cocoa. However, "if we consume it in excess, we will gain weight," she warned.