Nutritional balance: health benefits of cocoa powder
By Kristen Hicks-Roof PhD, RDN, LDN, CLC and Kristi Chapman DCN, RDN, LD
December 13 is National Cocoa Day. Cocoa was first cultivated in South America and is now consumed around the world, with nearly 4.5 million tonnes of cocoa consumed worldwide each year. Most hot chocolates and packaged candy bars are actually full of sugar and contain little cocoa, so they don’t have many of the health benefits that cocoa can offer; However, 100 percent cocoa powder can provide many nutritional benefits, let’s look at some of them.
Reduction of inflammation: Cocoa powder contains polyphenols, which are natural antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol; however, when cocoa is processed into chocolate, the polyphenol content is reduced by 60 percent (Ludovici et al. 2017).
Heart health and insulin resistance: Cocoa powder and dark chocolate are high in flavanols which have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and some studies have suggested a lower risk of insulin resistance and d hypertension in adults (AHA 2019). Just one small serving of cocoa-rich dark chocolate can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cognitive health: Research suggests that cocoa powder may help improve your attention span, verbal learning, memory, and attention. (Martin, Goya and de Pascual-Teresa 2020)
Eating processed milk chocolate doesn’t have the health benefits of pure cocoa or dark chocolate, but cocoa is easy to include in your diet. This unsweetened powder can be added to a variety of foods. How can I do this?
- Consume a small piece of dark chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa.
- Add 100 percent cocoa powder over milk chocolate syrup or ice cream to make hot chocolate or a milkshake.
- Use cocoa powder to make homemade pudding.
- Add cocoa powder to baked goods to increase the nutritional profile with low calorie additions.
Kristen Hicks-Roof PhD, RDN, LDN, CLC, FAND is Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Brooks College of Health, University of North Florida.