Hot chocolate is the perfect companion for those cold winter nights (and mornings and afternoons) when all you need is a little snuggle and warmth. But this delicious chocolaty brew not only packs the good stuff, it also has some pretty amazing benefits as well.
Cocoa powder is a great source of flavanoids which are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants play an important role in one's overall health - and are natural compounds found in some foods that help neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are substances that occur naturally in our bodies, but attack the fats, protein and the DNA in our cells, which can cause different types of diseases and accelerate the aging process.
Furthermore, there have been studies done about the health benefits of red wine, but when measured on the same per-serving basis, the antioxidant concentration in hot chocolate was almost twice as strong as red wine. Cornell University researchers found that cocoa's concentration was two to three times stronger than that of green tea and four to five times stronger than that of black tea.
Drinking hot chocolate made specifically from unsweetened dark chocolate can carry significant health benefits. Researchers at Harvard Medical School analyzed 21 studies that involved more than 2,500 participants and found that drinking chocolate is associated with reduced blood pressure, improved blood vessel health and lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol and elevating HDL ("good") cholesterol. Earlier evidence also suggested that drinking cocoa may be responsible for the very low incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
Packed with minerals, just one tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder contains 3 to 9 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron, manganese, magnesium and zinc. In addition to carrying oxygen, iron helps make red blood cells and is essential for your immune system. Manganese is a component of enzymes that form cartilage and bones, metabolize nutrients and function as antioxidants inside every cell in your body. Magnesium helps produce energy and maintain a normal heart rhythm. Zinc is vital for the production and development of new cells, including immune system cells. Without enough zinc, the number of bacteria-fighting cells goes down and you become more susceptible to illness.
Additionally, cocoa contains the substance phenethylamine, which is a neurotransmitter found in the brain that acts as a mood elevator and natural antidepressant.The University of Michigan Health System (UMIM) states that cocoa may also have the ability to boost endorphins, which act as natural "happy" opiates and are responsible for the highs that are often felt after exercising, laughing, having sex or winning the lottery. Finally, UMIM says that cocoa may boost serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that antidepressants target in order to boost overall happiness levels.