There won’t be a science quiz after this section, but if cocoa flavanols are part of your daily routine you’d probably ace it!
Cocoa flavanols are naturally-occurring, plant-based compounds found in the beans of the cacao plant, (aka cocoa tree). Flavanols are found in a variety of plants, including tea, berries, grapes (that whole idea of “red wine is good for your heart…” same concept here), apples and—of course—cocoa.
While there are many foods that contain flavanols, each of the flavanol types in these foods is distinct. One interesting fact about cocoa is that it can be a particularly rich source of a flavanol form that our bodies absorb more easily—and that offers important benefits to our blood vessels. Want the scientific details? Click here!
Flavanols are bioactive, which means they work to promote good health. Numerous studies with cocoa flavanols have shown that their intake can improve the function and health of blood vessels ... which is good not only for your blood vessels but for your heart and entire body as well.
Think of the cardiovascular system as a superhighway, circulating on average more than 2,000 gallons of blood to all parts of your body each day. If there are any slow-downs along the way, your heart, brain, muscles, and all the important parts of your body don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay in peak form. The result? Your body’s performance gets sluggish.
One way flavanols give the cardiovascular system a boost is by increasing the body’s pool of nitric oxide (NO), a molecule that tells the blood vessel walls to relax. When their walls relax the vessels get wider, giving them more biological bandwidth to carry that oxygen and other vital nutrients to their organ systems. And when tissues are bathed in the nourishment they need, they show their appreciation by performing better, head to toe.
The bad news about cocoa flavanols is that they’re very fragile. Even rough handling of the cocoa beans can damage the flavanol structures, while most processing methods used to make chocolate flat out destroy them. Hold that thought in your (flavanol-enhanced, perhaps?) working memory, because we’ll come back to it after talking about cocoa flavanol’s cognitive benefits.