Hot Cocoa’s Antioxidant Power

Researchers have shown that cocoa has higher levels of antioxidants than the popular beverages red wine, green tea and black tea.

Fancy a nice hot cup of cocoa or hot chocolate? As a warming winter drink, hot cocoa has lots of appeal. As well as tasting good, cocoa’s high antioxidant count – higher even than red wine or green tea – suggests it’s a good all-year-round drink, no matter what the weather.

Scientists at Cornell University’s Department of Food Science and Technology and the Department of Food Science and Technology in the School of Agricultural Biotechnology at Seoul National University in South Korea, analysed the total antioxidant content of three popular beverages: cocoa, red wine and tea.

Their results, showing that cocoa had the highest levels of antioxidants, were published in the December 3, 2003, issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.

Lead author, Dr Chang Yong Lee, said the study is the most complete comparison to date of the total antioxidant content of these three popular beverages. The researchers did not look at other popular beverages claimed to be sources of antioxidants, such as cranberry juice and coffee.
Preventative Health Benefits of Antioxidants

Antioxidants from fruits and vegetables are credited with preventative health benefits and may reduce the risk of different kinds of illness, particularly heart disease and cancer.

Many recent studies have touted the health benefits of red wine and tea, which are known to be high in antioxidants. Although researchers have been aware for some time that cocoa is also rich in these compounds, Professor Lee said, its relative contribution in comparison to other beverages had been unclear.

Although we know that antioxidants are important for good health, nobody knows the exact daily amount required per person, he said. “Nevertheless, a cup or two of hot cocoa every once in a while can provide a delicious, warm and healthy way to obtain more antioxidants.”

Comparing Red Wine, Tea and Cocoa

To compare the antioxidant content of red wine, tea and cocoa, the researchers tested them using similar serving sizes and conditions. The beverages tested included a cup of hot water containing two tablespoons of pure cocoa powder, roughly equivalent to the amount of cocoa in a normal-size packet of instant hot chocolate; a cup of water containing a standard size bag of green tea; a cup of black tea; and one glass of red wine (California Merlot).

Using analytical techniques to evaluate the total antioxidant content in each beverage, the researchers showed that, on a per serving basis, the antioxidant concentration in cocoa was the highest. It was almost two times stronger than red wine, two to three times stronger than green tea, and four to five times stronger than black tea.

Polyphenols, which are the type of antioxidant in cocoa, account more than 10 percent of the weight of dry raw cocoa beans.

Better to Drink Cocoa Than Eat it

Antioxidant-rich cocoa is also found in many different products including desserts, sauces, liqueurs and candy bars, all of which differ widely in their cocoa content. But given a choice between getting your antioxidant fix from a cup of cocoa or a candy bar, even a dark chocolate bar, it is better to go with the drink, Professor Lee advised.

He pointed out that a normal 40-gram bar of chocolate contains about eight grams of saturated fat, compared to only 0.3 grams in an average cup of hot cocoa.

Although cocoa-based drinks can be enjoyed year-round, drinking the cocoa hot, but not boiling, triggers the release of more antioxidants than its cold counterpart.

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