Cocoa powder is a flavorful food product made by crushing and removing fat from cocoa beans. There are several benefits of cocoa powder including its anti-inflammatory properties, immune-boosting abilities, support for cardiovascular health, and provision of essential vitamins. Cocoa powder also supports antioxidant action, enhances mood, boosts brain function, promotes skin health, and aids in weight loss and control. In this article, we shall delve deeper into the several benefits of cocoa powder and how much to consume to attain those benefits.
Health benefits of Cocoa powder
Is cocoa powder good for you? We think so. Keep reading to learn more about what the science says about adding cocoa powder to your diet.
1. Rich in Antioxidants
Cocoa powder contains several antioxidants especially flavonoids that are very beneficial to your health. Flavonoids are a group of phenolic compounds that have great antioxidant potential. They include catechins, procyanidins, and epicatechins. These compounds play a vital role in combating free radicals, which are unstable molecules that cause oxidative stress in the body(*). They scavenge and neutralize free radicals protecting cells from damage and minimizing inflammation in the body(*, *). These antioxidants can also reduce the risk of various health issues such as CVDs, kidney disease, cancer, arthritis, neurological diseases, and respiratory diseases(*).
2. Cardiovascular Health
Research has shown that cocoa powder is very beneficial in improving your cardiovascular health(*). The flavonoids such as epicatechins found in cocoa powder have been found to have many positive effects on the heart and blood vessels. These compounds improve endothelial function, which refers to the ability of blood vessels to dilate and relax(*). By promoting healthy blood vessel function, cocoa powder can enhance blood flow, reduce blood pressure, and improve overall cardiovascular health(*, *).
Additionally, regular consumption of cocoa powder has been shown to lead to significant improvements in various markers of cardiovascular health. It can lower LDL cholesterol levels, increase HDL cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of blood clot formation(*, *). A review of various randomized control trials also showed that consumption of cocoa was associated with a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure(*). Therefore, incorporating cocoa powder into your diet can contribute to a healthier heart and reduce the risk of heart disease.
3. Mood enhancement
Cocoa powder has been found to have potential effects on mood enhancement and promotion of the sense of well-being. This could be due to the presence of various compounds in cocoa, such as phenethylamine, serotonin, and anandamide that can have a positive effect on your mood. Phenethylamine is a neurotransmitter that acts as a natural antidepressant and stimulant(*). It stimulates the release of hormones like dopamine, which is commonly known as the “happy hormone”, leading to a temporary mood uplift(*).
Serotonin, another compound found in cocoa powder, is a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation(*). It helps stabilize emotions and promote feelings of happiness and relaxation. Anandamide, often referred to as the “bliss molecule,” is a natural cannabinoid that binds to receptors in the brain, creating a sense of joy and well-being(*).
Studies on real people have shown that cocoa consumption can positively affect mood. In one study, participants who consumed cocoa rich in flavonoids reported feeling calmer and more content compared to those who consumed a placebo(*). Another study found that cocoa consumption led to improvements in mood, cognitive performance, and fatigue levels after only four weeks(*).
4. Brain Function
Cocoa powder has shown promising effects on brain health and cognitive function. The bioactive compounds present in cocoa, such as flavonols, caffeine, and theobromine, have been found to exert beneficial effects on the brain. Flavonols, in particular, have been shown to improve blood flow to the brain, enhance neuronal function, and promote the growth of blood vessels and neurons in the hippocampus, a region critical for memory and learning(*).
There is strong research that further demonstrates that regular consumption of cocoa powder can lead to improvements in cognitive performance(*). It can enhance memory, attention, and focus, which is great for the maintenance of brain health as we age(*). Moreover, cocoa powder’s stimulating compounds like caffeine and theobromine can provide a temporary boost in alertness and mental energy.
In addition to the acute cognitive effects, cocoa powder’s long-term benefits on brain health are promising. The consumption of cocoa flavonols has been associated with a reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, through their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects(*).
5. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Cocoa powder possesses strong anti-inflammatory properties that can help counteract inflammation and its detrimental effects on the body. Inflammation is the body’s immune response toward foreign agents including viruses, bacteria, and other substances. It can be caused by several factors including illness, or lifestyle factors such as stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, or intensive exercise. Chronic inflammation is a common underlying factor in many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
The flavonoids and other bioactive compounds in cocoa powder have been shown to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules and modulate immune responses. Cocoa flavonoids have been found to decrease the levels of inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), which are associated with chronic inflammation(*).
A study conducted on healthy individuals found that cocoa consumption reduced inflammatory markers and increased anti-inflammatory markers(*). Another study showed that regular consumption of cocoa improved markers of inflammation in patients with metabolic syndrome, a condition characterized by inflammation and an increased risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes(*).
6. Rich in Essential Minerals
Cocoa powder is not only a delicious treat but also a fantastic source of essential minerals. It contains significant amounts of minerals like magnesium, iron, and potassium, which are vital for various bodily functions. Magnesium plays a crucial role in numerous biochemical reactions in the body. It is involved in energy production, muscle and nerve function, and the maintenance of healthy bones. Magnesium also helps regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and heart rhythm(*).
Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to all parts of the body. It is a key component of red blood cells, which transport oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Iron is also necessary for the proper functioning of enzymes involved in energy production and DNA synthesis(*).
Potassium is an electrolyte that helps maintain fluid balance, regulate blood pressure, and support proper muscle and nerve function(*). It also plays a crucial role in maintaining heart health and controlling the balance of fluids and minerals in the body’s cells(*).
To get the most out of your cocoa powder, you should always opt for high-quality cocoa products. This is because the mineral content may vary depending on the specific cocoa powder brand or processing method.
7. Skin Health
The benefits of cocoa powder extend beyond internal health; it can also work wonders for your skin. The high antioxidant content in the cocoa powder helps combat oxidative stress and damage caused by environmental factors such as UV radiation and pollution. By neutralizing free radicals, cocoa powder can contribute to healthy, radiant skin.
Cocoa powder contains flavonoids, which can improve blood flow to the skin, enhance skin elasticity, and increase hydration(*). These compounds can also help protect against UV-induced damage, reduce inflammation, and promote the production of collagen and elastin, proteins that maintain the skin’s structure and elasticity(*, *).
Studies have demonstrated the potential of cocoa flavonoids to improve various skin conditions. Research on cocoa flavanol supplementation in women with photodamaged skin showed improvements in skin elasticity and facial wrinkles(*). Another study found that applying cocoa extract topically reduced the appearance of wrinkles and improved skin hydration(*).
To enjoy the skin benefits of cocoa powder, you can incorporate it into your skincare routine by using natural cocoa-based products or creating homemade masks and scrubs.
8. Weight Loss and Control
Cocoa powder can be helpful in weight loss and management. Despite its rich flavor, cocoa powder is relatively low in calories and fat compared to other chocolate products. It can be a satisfying alternative that allows you to enjoy the taste of chocolate while keeping your calorie intake in check.
Additionally, cocoa powder contains compounds that may support metabolism and fat oxidation. The presence of caffeine and theobromine in cocoa powder can stimulate the central nervous system, increase thermogenesis (the body’s calorie-burning process), and enhance the breakdown of fats for energy(*).
Several studies have explored the effects of cocoa consumption on weight-related parameters. A study conducted on overweight individuals found that cocoa supplementation reduced body weight and waist circumference compared to a placebo group(*).
Another study showed that cocoa consumption increased fat oxidation and energy expenditure in a group of healthy adults(*).
Remember that cocoa can only help your weight loss journey if you consume a healthy diet and maintain at least a moderate level of physical activity. Furthermore, over indulging in high-calorie cocoa products like candy and cake will not only deter your weight loss but will also cause weight gain. Choosing unsweetened cocoa powder without added sugars is best to avoid unnecessary calories.
9. Stronger Immune System
Cocoa powder contains various bioactive compounds that can support and strengthen the immune system’s response. The antioxidants present in cocoa powder help protect immune cells from damage caused by free radicals, enabling them to function optimally. The flavonoids in cocoa powder have been shown to have a positive effect on the health of immune cells and immune responses in general(*, *).
Cocoa powder also contains other beneficial compounds, such as theobromine, which has been found to have antimicrobial properties(*). This can potentially help combat harmful pathogens and support the body’s defense against infections. Furthermore, cocoa powder has been associated with enhanced gut health which is essential for optimal immune function(*). The prebiotic fibers found in cocoa powder also serve as fuel for beneficial gut bacteria, promoting healthy gut microbiota and supporting immune function.
How Much Cocoa Powder Should You Take Daily to Experience Its Benefits?
There is no clear amount that should be consumed to experience the health benefits of cocoa powder, however, it’s essential to consume it in moderation. Some experts suggest that around 2.5g of high-flavanol cocoa powder per day or 18g (five and a half teaspoons) per week can provide the desired benefits. However, individual tolerance, health conditions, and dietary considerations should be taken into account. It’s always best to consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized recommendations.
The Bottom Line
Cocoa powder offers an array of health benefits that can positively impact your well-being. Incorporating cocoa powder into your diet can be a delicious and natural way to harness its numerous health benefits. Whether you enjoy it in a warm cup of cocoa, use it as a flavorful addition to baked goods, or create homemade skincare remedies, cocoa powder can be a versatile and enjoyable addition to a healthy lifestyle. So, indulge in the benefits of cocoa powder and savor its goodness for a healthier you.