The origin of cocoa lies in pre-Columbian South America. The Spanish Conquistadors introduced it to Europe during the age of exploration. Later, steam-powered equipment enabled the prominent manufacturing of cocoa powder in the 1850s. Each year, people worldwide consume nearly 4.5 million tonnes of cocoa. The most common form of cocoa that people use is cocoa powder. It is easy to use and can add flavour to any dish.
Cocoa beans produce cocoa powder derived from the Theobroma cacao L plant. Chocolate is made mainly from cocoa beans, but it might also turn into cocoa powder. The powder provides numerous health benefits.
Nutritional Facts of Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
The nutritional contents in 10g of unsweetened cocoa powder:
- Calories – 22 kcal
- Carbohydrate – 2.5 g
- Fat – 0.7 g
- Protein – 1.4 g
Other nutrients (amount in % daily value)
- Iron – 4 %
- Calcium- 1 %
- Potassium- 2%
Cocoa powder is a nutrient-dense food that contains a high concentration of minerals.
10 Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder
1. Helps prevent High Blood Pressure
Cocoa, either in powdered form or as dark chocolate, may help decrease blood pressure. This effect was first observed among Central American cocoa-drinking islanders, who had a lower blood pressure than their non-cocoa-drinking mainland cousins.
The flavanols in cocoa increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, improve blood vessel function and lower blood pressure. One analysis looked at 35 studies that gave patients 0.05–3.7 ounces (1.4–105 grams) of cocoa goods or 30–1,218 mg of flavanols. It became a significant discovery that cocoa generated a minor but significant drop in blood pressure of 2 mmHg. Furthermore, the effect was more substantial in persons who already had high blood pressure than in those who did not and in older adults compared to younger people.
However, it’s crucial to realise that processing dramatically reduces the number of flavanols, so the effects are unlikely to be observed in the ordinary chocolate bar that is manufactured after heavy processing.
2. Rich in Anti-oxidants
Polyphenols are antioxidants that are naturally present in fruits, vegetables, tea, chocolate, and wine. They have various health advantages, including decreased inflammation, enhanced blood flow, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Cocoa is one of the most abundant sources of polyphenols. It’s high in flavanols, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In one randomised research experiment, forty-two individuals were given 40 grams of cocoa powder each day for four weeks. They had significant increases in HDL and significant decreases in oxidised LDL levels. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is protective against cardiovascular risk, but oxidised LDL is a substantial risk factor.
3. Improves heart health
Besides decreasing blood pressure, cocoa appears to have other qualities that may help lessen your heart attack or stroke risk. For example, flavanols in cocoa increase the amount of nitric oxide in your blood. As a result, it relaxes and dilates your arteries and blood vessels, increasing blood flow.
Additionally, cocoa serves as an indicator of lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, acts similarly to aspirin in blood thinning, improves blood sugar control, and reduces inflammation. These characteristics reduce the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
An assessment of nine studies demonstrates that increased chocolate consumption may considerably lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and mortality. The evaluation involved 157,809 people. Furthermore, two Swedish studies discovered that consuming up to one serving of 0.7–1.1 ounces (19–30 grams) of chocolate per day may decrease the risk of heart failure.
These findings imply that consuming small amounts of cocoa-rich chocolate frequently may benefit the heart.
4. Improves Brain Health
Numerous studies have discovered that polyphenols present in cocoa may help lower your chance of developing neurodegenerative disorders. They do it by enhancing brain function and blood flow.
Flavanols can pass the blood-brain barrier and are engaged in the metabolic processes responsible for producing neurons and other critical molecules. These help improve brain function. Additionally, flavanols stimulate the synthesis of nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessel muscles, increasing blood flow and blood supply to the brain.
A two-week trial of 34 older adults on high-flavanol cocoa found that after one week, blood flow to the brain rose by 8% and by 10% after two weeks. Additional research indicates that daily consumption of cocoa flavanols may improve mental performance in both healthy and mentally impaired individuals.
These studies suggest that cocoa has a beneficial influence on brain health and may positively affect neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
5. May Improve Mood and Depression Symptoms
Cocoa’s influence on the brain may also enhance mood and symptoms of depression. In addition, it also has favourable effects on age-related mental deterioration.
According to one study, increased chocolate consumption during pregnancy indicates less stress and improved mood in infants. Furthermore, another study revealed that consuming chocolate with a high polyphenol content increased calm and happiness. Likewise, research of elderly males revealed that chocolate consumption was associated with improved general health and psychological well-being.
The flavanols and caffeine concentration contribute to its mood enhancement properties. In addition, it helps convert tryptophan to the natural mood stabiliser serotonin. You may also experience the sensory pleasure of eating chocolate. All these factors contribute to its good mood benefits.
6. May Improve Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
While excessive chocolate intake is undoubtedly detrimental to blood sugar regulation, cocoa offers anti-diabetic properties.
Test tube studies show that cocoa flavanols inhibit carbohydrate digestion and absorption in the stomach. In addition, they help increase insulin production, decrease inflammation, and accelerate sugar transport from the circulation into the muscle.
Few studies have demonstrated that increasing your consumption of flavanols, especially those found in cocoa, may decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, a review of human research found that eating dark chocolate or cocoa high in flavanols can help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar management and reduce inflammation in both diabetic and non-diabetic individuals.
Nonetheless, these findings, together with more substantial evidence of its benefits on heart health, suggest that cocoa polyphenols may benefit both preventing and managing diabetes.
7. Promotes weight loss
Somewhat paradoxically, cocoa intake, even in the form of chocolate, may help you control your weight. It aids in weight loss by controlling energy consumption, lowering hunger and inflammation. In addition, it also helps enhance fat oxidation and feelings of fullness.
According to population research, people who consumed chocolate more regularly had a lower BMI than others. Although the former group ingested more calories and fat, they had a lower BMI.
Additionally, weight-loss research employing low-carbohydrate diets discovered that a group consuming 42 grams of 81% cocoa chocolate per day lost weight more quickly than a group on a standard diet. So, overall, it is safe to say that cocoa and cocoa-rich products may help reduce or maintain weight.
8. Have Cancer Protective Properties
Test-tube research on cocoa components reveals that they have antioxidant properties. As a result, they protect cells from reactive chemical damage, combat inflammation, restrict cell development, trigger cancer cell death, and prevent cell spread.
Animal trials employing a cocoa-rich diet or cocoa extracts showed promising results in the prevention of breast, pancreatic, prostate, liver, and colon cancers, as well as leukaemia.
Human studies also reveal that flavanol-rich diets may lower cancer risk. Little human research on cocoa and cancer shows that it can be a potent antioxidant and may help prevent cancer. However, more study is required to strengthen this claim.
9. Beneficial for Asthma
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory illness that causes airway blockage and inflammation and can be fatal. Cocoa is suitable for people with asthma because it contains anti-asthmatic chemicals.
Theobromine, which is comparable to coffee, may aid with chronic coughing. For example, 1.9 grams of theobromine is present in 100 grams (3.75 ounces) of cocoa powder. Theophylline widens your lungs, relaxes your airways and reduces inflammation. In addition, the cocoa extract has reduced airway constriction and tissue thickness in animal experiments.
10. Skin and Teeth Benefits
Cocoa has a variety of antibacterial, anti-enzymatic, and immune-stimulating chemicals that may contribute to its beneficial effects on dental health.
In one study, animals infected with oral bacteria given cocoa extract exhibited a substantial decrease in dental cavities compared to rats given simply water.
Contrary to common belief, cocoa in chocolate does not promote acne. Instead, cocoa polyphenols provide considerable skin advantages. For example, cocoa consumption on a long-term basis demonstrates increased UV protection, better blood circulation, and surface smoothness and moisture.
Ways to Include Cocoa in Your Diet
1. Eat dark chocolate
Ensure that it is high quality and comprises at least 70% cocoa to get the best results.
You may add cocoa to your favourite healthy smoothie recipe to enhance its chocolate flavour.
You can add raw cocoa powder (not Dutch) to homemade puddings such as chia breakfast puddings or rice pudding.
4. Hot/cold Cocoa
To make a chocolate milkshake, combine Cocoa with your choice of dairy or nondairy milk.
5. Vegan chocolate mousse
For a decadent vegan chocolate mousse, combine avocado, Cocoa, almond milk, and a sweetener such as dates.
6. Sprinkle over fruit
Cocoa is insanely delicious when dusted on bananas or strawberries.
7. Granola bars
To increase the health benefits and flavour of your favourite granola bar recipe, add Cocoa.
Healthy Recipes Using Cocoa Powder
1. Vegan Chocolate Banana Shake
- Preparation Time – 5 minutes
- Serves – 2 people
- Coconut milk – 1 cup
- Cocoa powder (unsweetened) – 2 tablespoons
- Avocado (peeled) – ½
- Bananas (frozen) – 2
- In a blender jar, combine all ingredients in the order listed. Close the lid and set the dial to Speed 1. Gradually increase the speed to high. Blend for 30 seconds or until perfectly smooth. Do not over blend, or the shake will begin to melt.
- Add a dash or two of coconut milk if the shake becomes too thick. Serve immediately in 1 or 2 large glasses.
- Chef’s Tip: Add a teaspoon of agave nectar or sliced date to increase sweetness. For the best chocolate flavour, use a high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder.
2. Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Muffins
- Total Time – 40 minutes
- Serves – 10 people (1 each)
- Whole wheat pastry flour – 1 1/2 cups
- Cocoa powder (unsweetened) – 1/4 cup
- Baking powder – 2 teaspoons
- Fine ground sea salt – 1/2 teaspoon
- Non-fat milk (any variety) – 3/4 cup
- Non-fat plain Greek yoghurt – 1/4 cup
- Egg (large) – 1
- Raw sugar – 1/2 cup
- Pure vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips – 1/4 cup
- Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Spray 10 slots in a standard 12-muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
- Then, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk and yoghurt. Next, whisk in the egg, followed by the sugar. Then, add in the vanilla extract.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet components in a slow, steady stream, stirring until everything is mixed. Finally, combine the chocolate chips using a spatula.
- Fill roughly 3/4 of the muffin slots with batter. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes.
- Remove from the pan and enjoy.
Possible Side Effects of Cocoa Powder
Eating cocoa is usually safe for most people. However, cocoa contains caffeine and related chemicals. Thus, eating large amounts of cocoa powder might cause caffeine-related side effects such as nervousness, increased urination, sleeplessness, and a fast heartbeat. In addition, cocoa may cause allergic skin reactions and trigger migraine in some people. It can also cause nausea, stomach discomfort, constipation, and gas.
Furthermore, applying cocoa butter is primarily safe for people. However, it may cause rashes on some people’s skin. Hence, always do a patch test before applying it to the face.
Cocoa Powder: Precautions
1. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Although cocoa is safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding, you should consume it in moderation. Therefore, monitoring your intake of cocoa is essential. Excess consumption may be harmful because cocoa contains caffeine. Some studies suggest that high caffeine doses may lead to premature delivery, miscarriage and low birth weight.
Experts advise 200mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy. But, you should note that cocoa products contain 2-35 mg of caffeine per serving and a cup of hot chocolate provides approximately 10 mg of caffeine.
Caffeine may also be an issue during breastfeeding. The concentration of caffeine in breast milk is half the level of caffeine in the mother’s blood. Hence, excess consumption of cocoa by mothers may lead to gastric issues in infants.
A study suggests that high caffeine intake can be a risk factor for anxiety and depression. However, it is primarily due to overconsumption. So, overconsumption of caffeine can worsen anxiety conditions.
3. Bleeding Disorders
Cocoa can slow blood clotting. However, consuming a lot of cocoa might increase the risk of bleeding and bruising in people with bleeding disorders.
4. Heart Conditions
The caffeine in cocoa might cause irregular heartbeat in some people. Therefore, people with heart conditions should use it cautiously.
Excess consumption of the caffeine in cocoa can worsen diarrhoea. Therefore, you should always consume it in moderation. In addition, if you are suffering from diarrhoea, it is better to avoid cocoa consumption to stay away from caffeine.
- Overconsumption of cocoa may worsen the symptoms of GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease).
- The caffeine in cocoa increases pressure in the eye and should be used cautiously in people with glaucoma.
- Caffeine might also increase blood pressure in people having blood pressure issues.
- Cocoa might trigger migraines in sensitive people.
- The caffeine in cocoa might increase calcium release in the urine. Therefore, people with osteoporosis should use it cautiously.
- Cocoa might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Therefore, you should stop eating cocoa at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
- Cocoa from dark chocolate can increase heart rate. In addition, consumption of cocoa may worsen the irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia condition.
Cocoa powder is an incredibly nourishing food full of nutrients. It helps improve the health of our heart, bones, digestion, skin, and hair, to name a few. In addition, cocoa powder enhances physical and mental well-being when you consume it in its organic, unsweetened form. To avoid any negative consequences from excessive use and reap the health benefits of cocoa powder, remember to consume it in moderation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Can I eat cocoa powder every day?
A. Yes, you can eat raw cocoa powder daily. Regular consumption can provide various health benefits, including reduced inflammation and protection against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. However, you should consume it moderately in its raw form.
Q. Why is cocoa powder terrible for you?
A. Moderate consumption of raw cocoa powder is not bad for you. However, overconsumption may lead to several issues. Cocoa has caffeine and related chemicals, and its overdose can cause agitation, increased urination, sleeplessness, and a rapid heartbeat. In addition, if you consume its processed form (a regular chocolate bar), you may gain weight because the processed chocolate bars contain high sugar.
Q. How much cocoa powder should I eat every day?
A. According to the European Food Safety Authority, the recommended daily intake value is 0.1 ounces (2.5 grams) of high-flavanol cocoa powder. In simple words, you shouldn’t consume more than four to six teaspoons of raw cocoa in a day.
Q. Is cocoa powder good for your skin?
A. Yes, it has significant skin benefits. For example, it improves the skin texture, hydrates your skin, protects it from sun damage, and helps blood circulation.
Q. Can you eat cocoa powder raw?
A. Yes, you can add raw cocoa powder to your food. However, ensure that you eat in moderation. Also, to enhance the taste, you may sprinkle it on fruits or puddings. In addition, you can also add it to your smoothies.
Q. Does cocoa help you sleep?
A. Yes, it can help you sleep. That is because it contains tryptophan, a sleep-inducing compound. The best way to have cocoa before bedtime is to drink cocoa milk. However, consume cocoa in moderation as it contains high levels of caffeine and disrupts your sleep cycle.
Q. What happens if you drink cocoa every day?
A. Daily consumption of cocoa provides us with beneficial compounds such as flavonols, a type of flavonoid. As a result, it can help prevent heart disease by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow, and protecting cells from damage. In addition, if you drink cocoa milk using almond milk, it can help you sleep better because both cocoa and almond milk contain tryptophan, a sleep-inducing compound.
Q. Which cocoa powder is best?
A. The processed forms of cocoa may be harmful because they contain excess sugar and additives. Therefore, it is best to use unsweetened raw cocoa powder. Then, you can add it to various recipes and reap all its benefits.
Q. Is cocoa better than coffee?
A. Yes, it is healthier than traditional coffee. Coffee contains a higher amount of caffeine and is more acidic than cocoa. However, overconsumption of caffeine in any form can lead to adverse effects.
Q. Is it reasonable to drink hot cocoa before bed?
A. Yes, drinking hot chocolate before going to bed can be relaxing. That is because cocoa may help with mood enhancement, stress reduction, and antioxidant health benefits. It can also help you sleep because it contains tryptophan, a sleep-inducing compound.
Q. Can I apply cocoa powder on my face daily?
A. To achieve the best effects, apply it once a week. First, combine the cocoa powder and water in a saucer to make a paste. Next, apply it on the face and later rinse with lukewarm water. It will exfoliate your face and add glow to it. In addition, it is rich in antioxidant properties. As a result, it will help get you rid of free radicals and repair your skin.
Q. Is cocoa good for hair growth?
A. Yes. Cocoa powder is rich in vitamins and minerals which promote hair growth. These include magnesium, zinc, and calcium. As a result, it helps fight hair loss and promotes healthy hair growth.
Q. Does cocoa cause pimples?
A. No, eating chocolate does not cause pimples. Instead, raw cocoa powder contains vitamin A, C, E and zinc, beneficial for your skin. For example, cocoa powder prevents skin damage and improves skin texture etc.
Q. How can I use cocoa powder?
A. You can use cocoa powder in a variety of ways. For example, you can consume dark chocolate, drink cocoa-based smoothies or sprinkle it on fruits and puddings. In addition, you can apply it to the face as a face pack and use it on your hair to nourish your scalp.
Q. Is cocoa powder good for kidneys?
A. Yes, according to research published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, consuming a cocoa product may help patients with kidney failure improve their blood vessel function.
Q. Is cocoa suitable for people with diabetes?
A. Yes, a review of human research found that eating dark chocolate or cocoa high in flavanols can help people with diabetes improve their insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. In addition, it also helps reduce inflammation.
Q. Is cocoa powder nutritious?
A. Yes, it is rich in minerals like iron, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. It is also full of theobromine which reduces inflammation and protects you from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Q. Is cocoa powder rich in protein?
A. No, the amount of protein found in cocoa seeds is relatively minor. For example, every 100 grams of cocoa contains 20 grams of proteins.
Q. Is cocoa high in copper?
A. Yes, dark chocolate is high in copper. 1 tbsp of cocoa powder has 3.79 mg of copper. Copper can help make new red blood cells, regulate brain functioning, and increase energy in the body.
Q. Is 100% cocoa chocolate good for you?
A. Yes, but the flavour is too intense. Dark chocolate with 70-80% cocoa is equally beneficial and has a better taste. However, it is best to use unprocessed cocoa powder because other forms may contain extra sugar and additives, which may not be very healthy for your body.
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