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iconOn Valentine’s Day, nothing says ‘I Love You’ better than a box of chocolates, and it is ironic that for a very long time it was believed that cocoa (found in high amounts in dark chocolate) was unhealthy as it led to weight gain and damaged teeth. However, research conducted recently has revealed that cocoa is one of the healthiest super foods when consumed in moderate amounts.

Here are four reasons why you should indulge in cocoa, be it in dark chocolate, in its powdered form to make desserts, or in hot chocolate:

1. Improves your mood. Rich in mood-elevating neurotransmitters, including phenethylamine, try a glass of hot chocolate (cocoa powder mixed with milk) if you are feeling low; cocoa triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin in your body, often called ‘happy opiates’ to give you a natural high.

2. Boosts your heart and brain health. Monitored intake of cocoa in any form lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and blood pressure levels, thanks to the presence of phytonutrients that also prevent oxidative heart damage. Magnesium and flavanol in cocoa are linked to improved memory, critical thinking and preventing age-related cognitive decline.

3. Gives you a burst of energy. Nibbling on dark chocolate will give you an instant energy boost, helpful if you are planning an all-nighter; cocoa contains iron, the primary component of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, as well as caffeine and theobromine – central nervous system stimulants.

4. Maintains a healthy gut. Recent research suggests that the microbes in our digestive tract ferment cocoa’s antioxidants and fibre, releasing ‘good’ bacteria that improve bowel health, aid digestion and increase the levels of digestive enzymes responsible for breaking down nutrient-dense foods, thereby allowing your body to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from the foods you eat.

– Dr Samia Babar
The writer is Director, Health Awareness Society.

First published in the Health Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on February 8, 2015.