Jill Hennessy (NBC photo: Paul Drinkwater)
In a recent interview, actress Jill Hennessy, star of the NBC hit drama “Crossing Jordan,” was asked about the one food she can’t live without. Her answer? Cocoa powder, which she adds to her morning bowl of Cream of Wheat.
“Seriously, it’s even better than a chocolate soufflé,” Hennessy swears—and her predilection may even help her fight cancer and heart disease.
According to researchers at Cornell University, cocoa is a major source of cancer-fighting antioxidants. It contains twice the amount found in red wine and up to three times the level found in green tea, according to Dr. Chang Y. Lee, chairman of the Department of Food Science and Technology. He and his fellow researchers found that cocoa contains a high level of phenolic phytochemicals (flavonoids), which indicate the presence of known antioxidants that can help prevent cancer, heart disease and other conditions.
Cocoa offers 611 mg gallic acid equivalents (GAE), a phenolic compound, and 564 mg flavonoid epicatechin equivalents (ECE) per single serving. In comparison, a glass of red wine provides 340 mg GAE and 163 mg ECE, while one cup of green tea offers 165 mg GAE and 47 mg ECE.
“If I had made a prediction before conducting the tests, I would have picked green tea as having the most antioxidant activity,” Dr. Lee says. “When we compared one serving of each beverage, the cocoa turned out to be the highest in antioxidant activity, and that was surprising to me.”
Phenolic compounds protect plants against insects and pathogens. A decade ago, “food scientists did not know that phenolics had an important role in human health,” Dr. Lee explains.
But don’t rush to substitute an organic chocolate bar for a cup of organic hot cocoa.
“Although a bar of chocolate exhibits strong antioxidant activity, the health benefits are still controversial because of the saturated fats present,” Dr. Lee and his research team concluded in their study. Cocoa has about .33 g fat per one-cup serving, while a standard 40-g chocolate bar contains 8 g fat.
To ensure you get your daily antioxidant boost, Dr. Lee encourages “diversification.”
“Personally, I would drink hot cocoa in the morning, green tea in the afternoon and a glass of red wine in the evening,” he says. “That’s a good combination.”