Cocoa is rich in antioxidants
A cup of cocoa a day may help to keep the doctor away.
A study by scientists in the United States has found that a cup of hot cocoa is rich in powerful antioxidants.
Previous studies have also shown these chemicals, which can protect against a range of diseases and reduce the effects of ageing, are found in cocoa.
However, this latest study suggests cocoa may be richer in antioxidants than better known "healthy" drinks like tea and red wine.
In recent years, a number of studies have highlighted the health properties of tea, red wine and cocoa.
A study in China, published in April last year, found tea drinkers were about half as likely to develop cancer compared with people who did not drink tea.
Just over a year ago, researchers in France reported that a glass of red wine a day may cut a man's chances of having a second heart attack by half.
In 1998, a study of more than 8,000 Americans found chocolate, which is made from cocoa, may even extend life.
They are all rich in polyphenols, chemicals that have an antioxidant effect on the body.
This means they can "mop up" free radicals - charged particles, produced by the body, which can damage cells and trigger diseases like cancer.
Dr Chang Yong Lee and colleagues at Cornell University in New York carried out tests to measure antioxidants levels in tea, red wine and cocoa.
A cup of cocoa came out on top. Their study found it was twice as rich in antioxidants as a glass of red wine, up to three times richer than a cup of green tea and up to five times richer than black tea.
Although cocoa is found in many other products, such as chocolate, the researchers said drinking it was the best way of harnessing its health benefits.
This is because a bar of chocolate is high in saturated fats. A 40g bar of chocolate contains about 8g of saturated fat. This compares with 0.3g in an average cup of hot cocoa.
"Although we know that antioxidants are important for good health, nobody knows the exact daily amount required per person," said Dr Lee.
"Nevertheless, a cup or two of hot cocoa every once in a while can provide a delicious, warm and healthy way to obtain more antioxidants."
The study is published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.