Theobroma cacao, a plant that is believed to originate from Central America where it was domesticated about 3600 years ago, is the source of one of the most loved treats in the world: chocolate. The cocoa tree's seeds (a.k.a cocoa beans) are used to make chocolate, cocoa butter and, of course, cocoa powder.
The process of creating cocoa powder is fairly straightforward. After the cocoa beans are roasted, they're ground into cocoa mass (also known as chocolate liquor). That mass is then processed to extract about 75% of the fat – that fat is the main component in chocolate, known as cocoa butter. What's left of the fat, is dried and ground into rich-tasting cocoa powder.
Essentially, cocoa powder is the last remaining part of cocoa beans, after most of the fat is removed.
We've all heard how a piece of dark chocolate can benefit your health, but what about cocoa powder? Perhaps not so surprisingly, cocoa has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries and modern science confirms those beliefs.
Below, we'll uncover some of those health benefits you can reap when you include just a little bit of this dark goodness in your diet.
1. Cocoa powder contains some of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet
Antioxidants are one of the reasons why cocoa is often deemed to be one of the most powerful and healthy substances. These crafty compounds are crucial for the fight against free radicals which can damage your cells and eventually lead to severe health conditions, including cancer.
Cocoa is noted as one of the best sources for antioxidants, exceeding even green tea which is usually marketed strongly for its antioxidant content.
One of the compounds in cocoa that has strong antioxidant effects are flavonoids which can protect your cells from damage and even prevent cancer cells from spreading further. Researchers have already studied the connection between cocoa and different types of cancer vastly, finding correlations between cocoa and some cancer cells dying.
The high amount of flavonoids in cocoa powder is largely responsible for most of the health benefits derived from cocoa beans.
2. Better cardiovascular health
Researchers are constantly trying to find ways how to lower the risk of heart disease. Cocoa powder, however, might be one of the answers.
Flavonoids come to the rescue once again. In addition to antioxidant effects, flavonoids have anti-inflammatory effects and they can even prevent blood clots or buildups that could damage the blood flow.
Cocoa is also known to strengthen the coronary arteries, lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar and reduce LDL cholesterol, hence eliminating the risk factors of a heart attack.
When it comes to blood pressure, cocoa has been found to improve the nitric oxide levels in the blood which, in turn, relaxes the blood vessels so the blood could flow more easily.
Simply put, cocoa is great for your heart!
3. Lower cholesterol
High cholesterol level is known as one of the main risk factors for heart disease. Research has found though that if you consume cocoa powder regularly, your cholesterol level might decrease.
Flavanols are the key here again, being capable of increasing HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol, therefore creating a healthy balance.
4. Fighting against type 2 diabetes
It might seem controversial to consume chocolate or cocoa powder to decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes but research has found that cocoa flavanols might improve blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity significantly.
The flavanols in cocoa slow the rate at which sugars are absorbed so your blood sugar won't spike. At the same time, they also help to break down glucose more easily, so your body won't have to go through so much trouble.
These small things combined mean a significant difference in your blood sugar level, helping to improve insulin resistance.
5. Improved brain function
The wonders of cocoa flavanols just don't seem to end. In addition to helping your heart and blood sugar so majorly, they have also shown signs of improving cognitive abilities.
Some flavonoids that are present in cocoa are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning that they can travel from blood to the brain. For that reason, these flavonoids can work directly at the brain, strengthening the brain cells.
Scientists even believe that regular cocoa consumption may help elderly people whose cognitive capabilities have already started declining. Now imagine what you can do for your brain if you start including cocoa powder in your daily diet from today!
6. Improved mood
Cocoa powder can even do wonders on your mental health. It has shown signs of reducing fatigue, lowering symptoms of depression and generally putting you in a better mood.
One possible reason behind it is cocoa's ability to help release the “happiness hormone” serotonin. If our serotonin level is low, we can feel under weather very easily, but a little cup of hot cocoa can fix that easily.
Of course, since cocoa contains a bit of caffeine as well, that might explain the sudden cheeriness.
Either way, cocoa powder can improve your mood on top of all other health benefits it brings.
7. Combats with overeating and helps with weight loss
Since cocoa has the awesome power of reducing the rate at which your body absorbs sugars, it can mean you'll feel fuller longer. That, in turn, suppresses appetite and makes it a lot easier to follow through with your diet plan, without having any cravings due to your tummy feeling empty.
Interestingly, cocoa has also been noted to increase fat burning and prevent fat being stored in your body.
It's completely possible that after including a bit of cocoa powder in your daily diet, you'll feel it's easier to follow your diet since your cravings have magically disappeared. That's the beauty of cocoa!
8. Great source of essential nutrients
Cocoa powder is packed with various essential minerals like:
Cocoa powder contains far more of these minerals than cocoa butter, so that's one of the reasons why it's better to opt for pure cocoa powder rather than a chocolate bar.
Magnesium is especially important in that list since, without enough magnesium, you can suffer serious health issues, including muscle spasms, fatigue, nausea, and many other problems. However, just one tablespoon of cocoa powder contains as much as 6% of your daily necessary magnesium!
Cocoa powder is also a surprisingly good source of fiber, containing a staggering 7% of daily recommended fiber intake in one tablespoon.
Choose pure cocoa powder without any added sugars
To get all those health benefits, it's crucial to take a closer look at the food labels and determine the actual contents of the cocoa powder.
Unfortunately, too many options contain huge amounts of added sugar or flavorings which are added to give the cocoa powder a sweeter taste. In these cases, you might unknowingly consume far more sugar than cocoa powder, resulting in more harm than good.
To enjoy the vast health benefits cocoa powder can offer, choose pure cocoa powder without any added sugars or other substances, such as Healthworks cocoa powder or Viva Naturals organic cacao powder.
As there can be a big difference between the quality of cocoa powder itself as well, opt for the one that has about 1 gram of fat per 5-6 gram serving (about 20 grams of fat per 100 grams of cocoa powder). This way you can make sure the cocoa powder is made from high-quality cocoa beans and the powder's taste is richer.
And the best part – by adding just a bit of cocoa powder in your daily life, you can enjoy all the great health benefits and feel better than ever.