Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder

Cocoa was first cultivated in ancient South America. During the Age of Exploration, the Spanish Conquistadors introduced it to Europe. In the 1850s, steam-powered machines allowed for the mass production of cocoa powder. Today, over 4.5 million tons of cocoa are consumed around the world every year.

Cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans, which come from the plant Theobroma cacao L. Cocoa beans are the primary ingredient in chocolate, but they can also be ground into cocoa powder. The powder provides many potential health benefits.

Health Benefits

Cocoa powder provides tons of benefits, especially if your powder is at least 72% cocoa. Here’s a look at some of the health benefits of cocoa powder:

Improved Cognitive Health

Research suggests that adding more cocoa powder to your diet helps to improve your attention, working memory, and general cognition. It may also restore cognitive performance in people with sleep loss.

Stronger Immune System

Cocoa powder contains iron, zinc, and selenium. These minerals help your body function and give your immune system a boost.

Lessened Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Consuming cocoa powder can be helpful if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and undergo radiation therapy. The selenium in cocoa power has been shown to limit the negative side effects of radiotherapy in people with cancer.

Better Muscle and Nerve Function

Magnesium is important for regulating muscle contraction and helping with nerve function. The mineral also helps protect nerve cells and reduce the risk of neurological disorders. Cocoa powder contains magnesium, which means consuming it can help with maintaining healthy muscle and nervous system functioning.

Wound Healing

Chocolate made with 90% cocoa contains plenty of zinc, a mineral that is useful for healing wounds.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Flavonols, a type of flavonoid found in dark chocolate, help to protect you from heart disease by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow, and preventing cell damage. Cocoa powder also contains polyphenols, antioxidants that help to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Reduced Inflammation

Cocoa powder is rich in theobromine, which helps to reduce inflammation and can protect you from diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Weight Loss and Control

Since cocoa is rich in phytonutrients but low in fat and sugar, the calories you get from cocoa powder will be packed with healthy chemicals. Studies have also found that cocoa helps to regulate energy use and metabolism while also increasing feelings of fullness. In other words, although chocolate is commonly associated with weight gain, cocoa powder may actually help to reduce weight while providing important nutrients.

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Nutrition

Cocoa powder is packed with nutrients, including minerals such as iron, zinc, selenium, and magnesium.

Nutrients per Serving

A quarter cup of unsweetened cocoa powder contains:

Things to Watch Out For

By itself, cocoa doesn’t contain much sugar or fat. Most commercial chocolate products, however, contain added sugars and fats. Go for products that contain 60-70% cocoa or higher to get the most benefits.

How to Prepare Cocoa Powder

To turn cocoa beans into cocoa powder:

  1. Roast the cocoa beans.
  2. Remove the shells so just the cocoa nibs remain.
  3. Mill the cocoa nibs into a non-alcoholic liquor.
  4. Press the cocoa liquor to remove the cocoa butter.
  5. Break down the leftover solid mass (called the cocoa press cake) to form cocoa powder.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 28, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Journal of Food and Nutrition: “Production and quality evaluation of cocoa products (plain cocoa powder and chocolate).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Brain Benefits of Chocolate (Yes, Chocolate!).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Heart Healthy Benefits of Chocolate.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Frontiers in Nutrition: “Cocoa, Blood Pressure, and Vascular Function.”

Frontiers in Nutrition: “Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids."

International Cocoa Organization: “Summary of the process of transforming cocoa beans into chocolate.”

Int J Food Sci Nutr.: “Mineral essential elements for nutrition in different chocolate products.”

Mayo Clinic: “Can chocolate be good for my health?”

Mayo Clinic: “Nutrition Spotlight: Dark Chocolate!”

Molecular nutrition & food research: “Molecular mechanisms underlying the potential antiobesity-related diseases effect of cocoa polyphenols.”

Nutrients: “A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System—Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection.”

Nutrients: “The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders.”

Phytotherapy research: “Dark chocolate: an obesity paradox or a culprit for weight gain?”

Radiation Oncology: “Updates on clinical studies of selenium supplementation in radiotherapy.”

World Cocoa Foundation: “History of Cocoa.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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