Go on – take the Cocoa powder challenge!
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
See if you can boost your energy levels in 2 weeks
Research from Oxford-Brookes University, sponsored by the MS Society, came out earlier this year suggesting that flavonoid-rich, dark hot chocolate might help reduce MS fatigue. The researchers hypothesize that the flavonoid compounds in cocoa could modify neural transmission allowing MS patients to overcome some aspects of the illness, especially daily fatigue.
Flavonoids are a large group of plant-based compounds found in foodstuffs from green tea, blueberries, red wine and dark chocolate. Flavonoids have been believed for centuries to have many health-benefits, including positive effects on muscle firing, cardiovascular circulation, regulating inflammation and even fighting cancer. Many of these claims need to be taken with a pinch of salt (not literally) because in-vivo evidence for many claims is non-existent at the moment. This is where the Oxford Brookes study is different in that they actually studied the impact of a simple experimental treatment (drinking a high-flavonoid cocoa drink every day) in humans (MS patients). They found that treatment with the high-flavonoid chocolate drink resulted in less self-reported fatigue and better muscle function, compared to the placebo group who received a low-flavonoid drink. Obviously much more research is required to establish if this is a real link, but I find it hard to believe that ancient Meso-Americans had it completely wrong for centuries!
Experimenting with cocoa - bitter is better!
As cocoa is a non-toxic comestible available in many shops these days, and I am a trained biochemist, it would be silly of me not to try to see if taking a high-flavonoid cocoa drink every day could help with my fatigue! So here goes my attempt at re-creating the experimental treatment they used in the Oxford-Brookes study.
Unfortunately you won't find flavonoid content on nutrition labels, but the label should indicate the percentage of cocoa solids. Since flavonoids are found only in the solids, you can use the percentage of solids as a general guide for choosing products with the most flavonoids. Unsweetened cocoa powder has 88 to 96 percent cocoa solids. Dark chocolate contains 45 to 80 percent cocoa solids, and milk chocolate has 5 to 7 percent. So obviously a good quality dark cocoa powder is the way to go (boo no luscious creamy milk chocolate for me, and Easter tomorrow! :( ).
I used to really rate Green & Black’s cocoa powder but since the takeover by Kraft things have definitely gone south – there seems to be fewer cocoa solids, more sugar (corn syrup?) and more vegetable shortening in all their products, and as a certified “super-taster” (lol – actually I just took a simple test at the NHS stand at last year’s Eisteddfod to see if I could taste propylthiouracil (PROP) – 25% of the population can - and woah is it bitter yuck!) I can definitely taste the difference. Luckily, our local Lidl stocks their own-brand cocoa powder, Belbake, which is the darkest, bitterest and most delicious cocoa I’ve ever tasted. It’s like the old Green & Black’s but on steroids! So that’s the cocoa for me! Because it is so enriched in cocoa solids (and hence flavonoids) Belbake cocoa is extremely bitter which bodes well for my experiment.
My recipe for a high-flavonoid
I have a very dilute latte (need the milk for bone health!) a couple of times a day anyway, so Tegid and I figured it would be easy to turn that into a Mocha by adding some cocoa paste to the espresso at the base. This is the most delicious drink! We don’t add any sugar so it is also quite healthy
I’ll be having two of these a day for the next couple of weeks, and will keep a diary of how it affects my fatigue, mood and strength. Please feel free to join in too – and send us your experiences. Do you feel less tired? That it gives you a boost, regardless of whether you have a long term condition or not?
Take a teaspoon full of high quality, dark cocoa powder and mix into a paste adding about 1tbsp of water or coffee. You can add sugar now if you have it. Add the paste to your usual hot coffee and mix in. Top up with hot milk if using. Enjoy!