Healthy living may start with hot cocoa

Now that the storm has passed and left all of us in the tri-state area with a hefty amount of snow, chances are that you want nothing more than to curl up under your covers with a good movie and a steaming mug of hot cocoa. Having doubts about that hot cocoa? Don’t you dare. As it turns out, hot cocoa offers a plethora of health benefits. In fact, it’s downright surprising that something so delicious can actually be so good for your body.

It’s okay to indulge sometimes — hot cocoa has an array of health benefits, along with being delicious. (AP Photo)

• Hot cocoa has an exceptionally high concentration of antioxidants — twice as much as red wine, 2-3 times as much as green tea and 4-5 times as much as black tea. The fact that hot chocolate is in fact “hot” is an added bonus — more antioxidants are released by the heat. Antioxidants are substances that help prevent a variety of ailments including cancer, heart disease and general side effects of aging by fighting free radicals in the body. Although a standard bar of chocolate also contains antioxidants, the benefits are outweighed by the amount of saturated fat present. Hot cocoa, on the other hand, contains significantly less saturated fat.

• The flavonoids in hot cocoa aid the body in processing nitric acid, thus improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and ultimately improving overall health. In addition, flavonoids help prevent the accumulation of platelets in the blood, preventing the formation of clots. Flavonoids are what make hot cocoa brain food. By improving overall blood flow, flavonoids also increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, helping you think better. Since dementia is the result of decreased blood flow to the brain, hot cocoa might be used to treat it in the future.

• Hot cocoa is not loaded with caffeine. A cup of hot cocoa with the same amount of chocolate as a bar only has a mere 11 milligrams, compared to the 137 milligrams in an eight-ounce coffee cup. What’s so harmful about caffeine? Turns out, more than you think. It would most certainly be in your best interest to lower your caffeine intake. Hot cocoa is a great alternative to your typical carbonated beverage or coffee. Caffeine is actually categorized as a drug, because it stimulates the central nervous system, temporarily giving you an energy boost and elevating your mood. However, it also causes dizziness, anxiety, headaches and jitters. Caffeine can also cause the body to lose calcium, slowly leading to bone loss. Hot cocoa has the minimal amount of caffeine, so it’s undoubtedly preferable to coffee and other caffeinated beverages.

With the numerous benefits of hot cocoa, you shouldn’t hesitate in making it your beverage of choice. Of course, remember that moderation is key. Stick to a cup a day and you’ll be on the right track. In addition, it should be noted that hot chocolate is not the same as hot cocoa. These terms seem to be used interchangeably, but an important difference exists between the two. Hot cocoa is made by dissolving cocoa powder in hot water or milk, but hot chocolate involves melting a bar of chocolate. Chocolate contains cocoa butter, which is full of saturated fat. Cocoa powder has no butter, so it’s much healthier but offers the same great taste. When in doubt, hot cocoa will always help you out!