Cocoa powder is rich in antioxidants and has several potential health benefits. These include helping to reduce blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease.

The Maya people in South America were probably the first to cultivate the cocoa plant in 400 AD, preparing it as a drink with cinnamon and pepper that they called a “drink of the gods.”

Since then, scientists have investigated the health benefits of cocoa beans.

Many people enjoy cocoa as a chocolate ingredient, although its percentage in chocolate products varies greatly. Some people also consume cocoa powder in chocolate drinks or baked goods.

Foods containing a high percentage of natural cocoa may have health benefits.

This article explores the health benefits of cocoa powder.

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Cocoa is one of the best-known sources of dietary polyphenols, constituting about 10% of a whole cocoa bean’s dry weight. The most abundant flavonoids in cocoa are catechins (37%), anthocyanidins (4%), and proanthocyanins (58%).

Polyphenols are plant compounds that play a vital role in human health due to their antioxidant capacity.

Although research into the short and long-term benefits of polyphenols is ongoing, evidence suggests that polyphenols may help with:

  • chronic disease
  • metabolism
  • cell proliferation

One 2021 study suggests that darker, more bitter chocolate bars with a higher percentage of cocoa mass have a higher content of phenolic compounds.

According to a 2017 review, cocoa may help to reduce blood pressure. Scientists believe this is because cocoa affects nitric oxide and dilates blood vessels, reducing pressure in blood vessels.

The review authors note that animal and laboratory studies show that cocoa inhibits angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), relaxing the veins.

Cocoa products may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD). There is even a link between chocolate consumption and a 37% lower risk of CVD and a 29% lower risk of stroke.

Because overeating chocolate can translate to increased sugar consumption, it is a good idea to limit chocolate consumption overall.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 19 studies concluded that cocoa flavanol intake from cocoa products, chocolate, or cocoa flavanol supplements may significantly improve lipid metabolism and insulin resistance.

The observed effects on lipid metabolism included lowering triglycerides, increasing HDL cholesterol, and lowering LDL cholesterol.

Another 2016 study suggests that polyphenolic compounds in cocoa may help to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes by improving insulin function and regulation. However, the researchers note that more studies are needed to confirm the anti-diabetic actions of cocoa flavanols.

According to research, cocoa may have positive effects on gut bacteria.

A 2020 review explains that the intestine does not absorb cocoa polyphenols well, but their metabolites enter the circulation and interact with the gut microbiota.

The cocoa polyphenols act as prebiotics, enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and reducing the number of potentially harmful bacteria.

The review suggests that cocoa metabolites can enhance gut health, improve immunity, and reduce the risk of diseases.

A 2020 review suggests that cocoa flavanols improved cognition and blood and oxygen flow to the brain in child and young adult participants.

Another systematic review of 12 studies found that cocoa polyphenols had positive effects on memory and executive function in healthy adults. However, the review authors note that more studies are needed to confirm the effects.

Chocolate may have aphrodisiac properties.

While experts do not fully understand the mechanisms involved, cocoa can activate cannabinoid receptors, producing a feeling of well-being. Other compounds in cocoa may improve the blood flow to the genitals and enhance sexual performance.

A 2021 review suggests that cocoa may help protect the skin from sun damage and help improve its overall structure and health.

The review authors also note that some studies have found cocoa flavonols might increase skin elasticity and improve facial wrinkles.

When adding cocoa to a diet, it is important to choose products with a higher cocoa content to get optimal benefits from flavanols.

Cheaper chocolate products may have more sugar and fat, which can outweigh the benefits of cocoa.

People should consider trying the following when increasing their cocoa consumption:

  • Opt for dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%.
  • Add pure cacao powder to baked goods.
  • Add cocoa powder or cacao nibs to smoothies or overnight oats.
  • Make hot or cold chocolate drinks with cocoa powder and milk.
  • Prepare vegan chocolate mousse using silken tofu, plant milk, and cocoa powder with a natural sweetener, such as stevia or maple syrup.

Research shows that cocoa powder contains antioxidant polyphenols that have many health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and helping prevent common conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and high cholesterol.

Because cocoa products can be high in sugar and fat, it is important to consume them in moderation. Additionally, products higher in cocoa content tend to have more health-promoting polyphenols.