The Truth About Chocolate Tea

Double dark chocolate, chocolate strawberry, red velvet, chocolate mint—these sound more like the names of cupcakes or candy bars than tea bags but, in fact, that's just what they are.  A new generation of teas—both herbal and regular—have taken on some of the flavors of hot cocoa and specialty coffees to create new blends that are not only rich and satisfying in flavor but, according to some reports, can also be added to the ever-growing list of antioxidant-packed "health foods."

Antioxidant Power
Of all the different forms chocolate takes, cocoa powder has the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity, or ORAC, rating. That means it contains the most antioxidants, and, in theory, confers the most health benefits. The amount of antioxidants in unprocessed cocoa powder varies, depending on the type of cocoa used, but generally contains even more than dark chocolate, which is considered a rich source of antioxidants. As it turns out, cocoa powder and cocoa powder extracts are not only top sources of antioxidants among chocolates, but also beat out antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables like berries, red grapes, broccoli, and spinach.

How It Works
The antioxidants found in cocoa powder are called flavonoids, the same type found in green and black teas, red wine, and berries. Flavonoids belong to a family of antioxidants known as phenolic compounds. These compounds may help protect your body from damage by harmful substances known as free radicals. Free radicals are a natural by-product of normal metabolism, and they are also found in some drugs and environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke and heavy metals. They endanger your heart by damaging cells in the walls of the arteries and oxidizing LDL cholesterol. Antioxidants from the diet appear to help prevent this type of damage and possibly protect against heart disease. Substances found in both tea and cocoa have also been found to lower blood pressure and dilate blood vessels, making it easier for your heart to pump blood through your arteries.

Your Cup of Tea
Flavonoids are found in all types of real tea but not necessarily in herbal teas. Rooibos, or red tea, is a caffeine-free beverage made from the leaves of a South African bush, and is also packed with similar phenolic compounds. Studies have suggested that drinking three or four cups of black tea a day may help reduce the risk having a heart attack. Other studies have indicated a similar benefit from drinking green tea. At the same time, new studies are revealing the potential of cocoa powder and dark chocolate to protect your heart in similar ways. But while the results of these studies are promising, they are not yet confirmed.

A cup of black, green or rooibos tea blended with cocoa powder or bits of dark chocolate will certainly give you a dose of powerful antioxidants. Whether or not those antioxidants can actually prevent heart disease in humans has yet to be proven. But as research continues, you can enjoy a nice hot cup of chocolate tea for what it can be: a delicious beverage that won't hurt you and just might help your heart.



Clemson University Cooperative Extension: When It Comes to Chocolate, Choose Dark Web. 23 Jan 2012

New York University

Oregon State University: Pytochemicals-Tea  Web. 23 Jan 2012

Pennnington Nutrition Series: Cocoa Polyphenols  23 Jan 2012

Persson IA et al.; "Effects of Cocoa Extract and Dark Chocolate on Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme and Nitric Oxide in Human Endothelial Cells and Healthy Volunteers." Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. 2011 Jan;57(1):44-50 Web. 23 Jan 2012

Persson IA et al.; "Effects of Green Tea, Black Tea and Rooibos Tea on Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme and Nitric Oxide in Healthy Volunteers