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4 Science-Backed Cocoa Powder Benefits

4 Science-Backed Cocoa Powder Benefits

When it comes to healthy drinks, people often talk about fresh fruit juice, milk, coffee, or tea. But, what about the classic hot cocoa drink? In this article, we’ll talk about the science-backed cocoa powder benefits.

How Do We Obtain Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder, like our beloved chocolate, comes from cocoa beans, which are the seeds of the tropical tree, Theobroma cacao.

Generally, the process for cocoa powder production involves1:

  • Producing cocoa mass or paste from processed beans.
  • Melting the mass into cocoa liquor.
  • Pressing the cocoa liquor to remove some of the cocoa butter and produce cocoa cake (which is basically the compressed version of cocoa powder).
  • Grinding the cake into cocoa powder.

Of course, there may be additional steps depending on the type of cocoa powder the manufacturer produces.

For instance, “Dutched” cocoa powder means that the beans are treated with an alkaline solution, making the color darker and the flavor milder. Non-Dutch or non-alkalized cocoa powder retains the beans’ natural acids. It appears lighter with a less mellow flavor2. Note that Dutch-style and non-Dutch cocoa powder are often unsweetened.

What About Cacao?

Online, you must have seen cacao powder products. Please keep in mind that cacao is less processed than cocoa, so it doesn’t have much of the chocolate flavor that cocoa has.

Science-Backed Cocoa Powder Benefits

Now that we have a better understanding of where the cocoa powder comes from and how it’s different from cacao, let’s talk about the science-backed cocoa powder benefits:

1. Cocoa is rich in polyphenols

Why do companies advertise chocolate for its antioxidant activity? It’s because cocoa is rich in polyphenols, particularly in flavonols3.

Reports say polyphenols have numerous potential benefits for the heart. They also appear to help with neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, diabetes, and obesity4.

2. It may help lower blood pressure

One of the potential cocoa powder benefits is its ability to lower blood pressure.

One review, for instance, concluded that flavonoid-rich cocoa products can lower blood pressure by 2 mmHg. The review also mentioned that flavonoids increase the levels of nitric oxide, which can cause blood vessels to widen, thereby decreasing the blood pressure5.

3. Chocolate reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease

The possibility that cocoa can reduce blood pressure is already a huge advantage for your cardiovascular health. But did you know that there’s already a study about overall heart disease risk and chocolate consumption?

In the study involving more than 20,000 individuals, the researchers concluded that a higher intake of chocolate is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events6. This means one of the potential cocoa powder benefits is cardiovascular protection.

4. Cocoa may improve brain health and mood

A review of 8 studies aimed to determine how chocolate affects mood and cognitive function.

Five of the 8 studies noted that chocolate either improved mood or attenuated (uplifted) negative mood. Meanwhile, 3 studies noted clear evidence of enhanced cognitive function following intake of cocoa flavonols7.

How to Add Cocoa Powder to Your Diet

To obtain the potential cocoa powder benefits we discussed earlier, here are some ways to add cocoa powder to your diet:

  • Use it in baking
  • Add cocoa powder to your milk or protein shakes
  • Sprinkle cocoa powder in fresh fruits
  • Prepare a hot cocoa drink with a little bit of sugar, vanilla extract, milk, and salt.

Just a little reminder: The processes needed to manufacture cocoa powder often reduce its healthy components. For this reason, be sure to choose the least processed kind, which contains nothing but cocoa. Refrain from choosing cocoa powder with added sugar, milk, or cream. One big clue is when you see “just add hot water” in the label or the pack says “chocolate flavor” powder.

Key Takeaways

Cocoa powder benefits potentially include better blood pressure, heart health, brain health, and mood. On top of that cocoa is rich in polyphenols, which experts say are helpful for several health conditions.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.

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Sources

1. Cocoa: Production, Chemistry, and Use, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012384947200177X, Accessed November 10, 2021

2. “What is ‘Dutched cocoa’ and how does it differ from other cocoas?”, https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/icooks/9-2-02.html, Accessed November 10, 2021

3. Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/, Accessed November 10, 2021

4. The Role of Polyphenols in Human Health and Food Systems: A Mini-Review, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6160559/, Accessed November 10, 2021

5. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28439881/, Accessed November 10, 2021

6. Habitual chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men and women, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26076934/, Accessed November 10, 2021

7. Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24117885/, Accessed November 10, 2021

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated 2 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Kristel Lagorza