By Michael Thal
Cocoa has been around since early man. The ancient Aztec and Mayan civilizations used the cocoa bean to cure emaciation, angina, anemia, and bowel complaints. Today, we have seen from extensive scientific research that cocoa powders have health benefits dependent on the alkalization of the powder. When the cocoa bean is alkalized, also known as Dutch processing, the bitter compounds in the cocoa bean are removed changing the pH level of the bean from its natural state of 5 to 5.6 up to the 7 to 8 range, dependent on the level of alkalization. (This is a process of heating the cocoa powder with water. Contingent on the product you want depends on the temperature of the process and the amount of water added.) It is therefore obvious that non-alkalized cocoa is a lot healthier than alkalized cocoa.
The pH level of a milk chocolate Hershey Kiss, which is made from alkalized cocoa, is 6.5, but the pH of Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa Power, non-alkalized cocoa is 5. The pH level of natural non-alkalized powders like Hershey’s contain a high level of flavonoids and antioxidants like polyphenols. Research has shown that as pH increases during the alkalization process, the healthy ingredients decrease.
Studies have continuously shown the health benefits in non-alkalized cocoa products. For example, a February 2012 study out of the University of East Anglia showed that the polyphenols in cocoa have potential cardiovascular, skin, and even brain health benefits. Another study out of the University of Reading in England reported that cocoa has a positive impact on the bacteria in our large intestine and on the complex microorganisms living in our digestive tracts.
There’s more. Flow-mediated dilation (FMD) is a measurement of a blood vessel’s healthy ability to relax. A report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that cocoa consumption increases FMD and reduces diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in blood vessels between heartbeats). Scientists have known for years that eating flavonoid rich fruits reduces the risk of illness like cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease. Cocoa is a fruit that is rich in flavonoids.
Throughout history people have found over 100 medicinal uses for cocoa to treat fatigue, fever, heart pain, shortness of breath, kidney and bowel complaints. With modern scientific investigation we are finding out why the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations were right.