- Where Cocoa Powder Comes From
- Cocoa Powder Nutrition
- 10 Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder
- How to Add Cocoa Powder Nutrition to Your Keto Diet
You probably already use cocoa powder for all your chocolate-flavored keto dessert recipes, smoothies, and fat bombs. What you may not know about is cocoa powder nutrition and the health benefits this delicious superfood delivers.
Once considered the “food of the gods,” ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations first used cocoa for multiple purposes, from treating digestive issues to boosting their energy levels[*].
Cocoa comes from fermented cocoa beans harvested from the cacao tree (aka Theobroma cacao), which is native to tropical climates like Central and South America.
The cocoa beans or seeds are cleaned and roasted to bring out their deep flavor. The outer shells are then removed, and what remains is what’s commonly called cocoa or cacao nibs, which can be eaten on their own as a low-carb snack.
Cacao butter is another popular by-product of this bean, which can be used as a vegan fat substitute for grass-fed butter. However, it’s more commonly used for chocolate production and as a moisturizing ingredient in beauty products.
When you remove cocoa butter, you’re left with a solid block of compressed cocoa. This then gets pulverized into a fine powder to create what we know as raw cacao powder.
According to USDA, the macronutrient breakdown for one tablespoon of cocoa powder is[*]:
- Protein: 1 tbsp (5.4 grams)
- Total fat: 0.7 grams
- Carbs: 3.1 grams
- Fiber: 1.8 grams
- Net carbs: 1 gram
Cocoa powder is also rich in important micronutrients including[*]:
At first, you may think that 3 grams of carbs per tablespoon is not exactly keto-friendly. But you have to factor in dietary fiber.
Cacao powder contains just 1 gram of net carbs, making it a delicious and versatile low-carb favorite for keto followers. It won’t make you go over the permitted carb daily value, helping you stay in ketosis.
Cocoa powder is not only an incredibly rich and decadent addition to your low-calorie diet, but it also delivers incredible nutritional value.
#1. Can Help Prevent Cancer
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world[*].
When free radicals from your diet and environmental pollutants damage cells, they can cause dangerous mutations that can lead to cancer. However, scientists have discovered a substance that can your body help fight free radical damage, lower oxidative stress, and cancer risks: antioxidants[*].
These powerful plant compounds are found in dark-colored fruits and veggies like raspberries, blueberries, kale, and cocoa beans[*].
- Protect your cells from damage and bacteria
- Stop cancer cells from growing
- Prevent existing cancer cells from spreading
- Encourage cancerous cells to die
One study has shown that cocoa can stop the growth and reproduction of prostate cancer cells, without affecting the growth and functioning of healthy cells[*].
#2. May Help Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
On top of helping fight off free radical damage and warding off cancer, the polyphenols and flavanols in cocoa powder are also anti-inflammatory, which may help improve your heart health[*].
Flavonoids in cocoa may be able to specifically prevent blood clots and buildup from blocking blood flow in your vessels and arteries, preventing the development of cardiovascular disease[*].
And since cocoa is a mix of healthy monounsaturated fats (like oleic acid, the same fat in olive oil) and saturated fats (like coconut oil), all these fatty acids may also lead to better cardiovascular health[*].
#3. Promotes Lower Blood Pressure
Studies have shown that people who consumed higher amounts of flavanol-rich cocoa or cocoa powder saw their blood pressure lower significantly in the short-term. This suggested that cocoa may be an effective natural treatment for hypertension[*].
Scientists in another study compared the effect of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate intake against a cocoa-free diet. The cocoa-eating group showed[*]:
- Dilated blood vessels, which allows better blood flow
- A significant reduction in oxidative stress
#4. Helps to Decrease Insulin Resistance
- Lower inflammation
- Improve blood sugar control
- Significantly improve insulin sensitivity
- Lower fasting insulin
That’s because cocoa polyphenols can help to slow the digestion and absorption of carbs and sugar. These compounds can also help break down glucose, promoting balanced blood sugar levels and improved insulin resistance[*][*][*].
In one study, scientists compared the effects of dark and white chocolate bars on glucose and insulin response in 15 healthy people. The data showed dark chocolate improved insulin sensitivity, while white didn’t[*].
#5. Can Prevent and Possibly Reverse Cognitive Decline
Experts believe cocoa flavanols can prevent or reduce many signs of age-related cognitive decline[*].
That may be because flavanols can actually cross the blood-brain barrier, so they get to work their magic directly on neuron production and brain cell functioning.
Scientists also demonstrated that regularly consuming cocoa flavanols might be effective for improving cognitive function in elderly adults who are already suffering from mild cognitive impairment[*].
#6. Can Promote Better Moods, Less Fatigue, and Lower Depression
It’s no coincidence that eating chocolate usually makes you feel happy. Even though you probably attributed those warm and fuzzy feels to the sugar found in chocolate, cocoa itself can enhance your mood for the better[*].
- Promote feelings of contentment
- Lower symptoms of depression
- Provide aphrodisiac-like effects
There’s even research showing that women who frequently ate chocolate during their pregnancy had babies with lower stress levels and better moods[*].
#7. Can Deliver Healthy Fiber
Chances are you’re not getting enough fiber — especially if you’re not tracking what you’re eating.
This can become problematic because fiber not only helps you feel fuller, it’s also necessary for healthy bowel movements and proper digestive functioning.
As a matter of fact, many people may struggle with constipation when they first switch to a low-carb diet.
In a study where 44 healthy people consumed two servings of cocoa products per day, they reported[*]:
- Increased daily bowel movements
- The time to have a bowel movement decreased
- The feeling of constipation disappeared
When you’re keto, you can’t load up on cocoa powder, but you can add it to other foods like chia pudding to bulk up your fiber intake.
#8. Can Help With Weight Loss
If losing weight is your main goal when following a keto diet, you may be able to use cocoa powder as part of your weight loss plan.
- Lower obesity-related inflammation
- Suppress your appetite
- Feel fuller for longer
- Prevent fat storage
- Increase fat burning
In a particular study, participants on a low-carb diet were allowed to eat 1.5 ounces of chocolate made with 81% cocoa (i.e., very dark chocolate with little sugar or milk solids) every day. They lost weight quicker than those who weren’t allowed to eat chocolate[*].
#9. May Help Balance Electrolytes
It’s very easy for keto followers to neglect their electrolyte balance, especially when they start their keto journey.
When you don’t have enough sodium, magnesium, and potassium in your body, you’ll experience symptoms like the dreaded keto flu.
Cocoa may help you meet your magnesium requirement as one tablespoon contains 6% of your recommended daily intake[*].
#10. Can Promote Better Dental Health
Since cocoa contains antioxidants with antibacterial and immunity-enhancing effects, it may lead to better dental health and help ward off gingivitis. One review also showed that theobromine, which you find in cocoa, may protect your tooth enamel and strengthen your teeth[*][*].
But you’ll only score these benefits if you stick to unsweetened cocoa powder, instead of opting for your regular chocolate bar, which contains sugar and leads directly to cavities.
When buying cocoa powder, stay away from sweetened options (like the ones used to make hot cocoa).
Look for unsweetened, high-quality cocoa powder with as few ingredients as possible. Ideally, your unsweetened cacao powder should just contain pure, untreated, ground cacao beans.
Though cocoa does contain trace amounts of caffeine, it’s generally well-tolerated by most people and has few side effects.
While there’s no set daily intake, remember that each tablespoon counts as 1 gram of carbs. There’s only so much you can consume if you’re sticking to less than 25 grams of net carbs a day.
The best and easiest ways to add cocoa powder to your low-carb diet is by using it to prepare:
- Cold or hot chocolate by mixing cocoa powder with non-dairy milk
- Smoothies and mocha keto coffees for a healthy, delicious treat
- Keto desserts like brownies, cookies, and chocolate mousse
- Chia pudding recipes
- Keto fat bombs
If you’re always on the run, a Perfect Keto Bar may be the best and quickest option for a keto snack. It’s an energy bar formulated to satiate cravings and boost energy levels while on a ketogenic diet. Plus, it’s only made with healthy ingredients, without any added sugars, sugar alcohols, cheap fillers, and harmful sweeteners.
While this nutrient-dense, on-the-go keto snack isn’t the only way you can reap all 10 benefits of cocoa powder, it’s one of the easiest ways to add more cacao to your healthy eating lifestyle.