It was introduced to Europe by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century and quickly became popular as a health-promoting medicine.
Cocoa powder is made by crushing cocoa beans and removing the fat or cocoa butter.
Today, cocoa is most famous for its role in chocolate production. However, modern research has revealed that it does indeed contain important compounds that can benefit your health.
Here are 11 health and nutrition benefits of cocoa powder.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring antioxidants found in foods like fruits, vegetables, tea, chocolate and wine.
Cocoa is one of the richest sources of polyphenols. It’s especially abundant in flavanols, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
However, processing and heating cocoa can cause it to lose its beneficial properties. It’s also often treated with alkaline to reduce bitterness, which results in a 60% decrease in flavanol content (1).
So while cocoa is a great source of polyphenols, not all products containing cocoa will provide the same benefits.
Summary Cocoa is rich in polyphenols, which have significant health benefits, including reduced inflammation and improved cholesterol levels. However, processing cocoa into chocolate or other products can substantially decrease the polyphenol content.
This effect was first noted in the cocoa-drinking island people of Central America, who had much lower blood pressure than their non-cocoa-drinking mainland relatives (3).
One review analyzed 35 experiments that provided patients with 0.05–3.7 ounces (1.4–105 grams) of cocoa products, or roughly 30–1,218 mg of flavanols. It found that cocoa produced a small but significant reduction of 2 mmHg in blood pressure.
Additionally, the effect was greater in people who already had high blood pressure than those without it and in older people compared to younger people (3).
However, it’s important to remember that processing significantly reduces the number of flavanols, so the effects most likely will not be seen from the average chocolate bar.
Summary Studies reveal that cocoa is rich in flavanols, which lower blood pressure by improving nitric oxide levels and blood vessel function. Cocoa containing between 30–1,218 mg of flavanols can reduce blood pressure by an average of 2 mmHg.
A review of nine studies in 157,809 people found that higher chocolate consumption was associated with a significantly lower risk of heart disease, stroke and death (9).
Two Swedish studies found that chocolate intake is linked to a lower rate of heart failure at doses of up to one serving of 0.7–1.1 ounces (19–30 grams) of chocolate per day, but the effect was not seen when consuming higher amounts (10, 11).
These results suggest that frequent consumption of small amounts of cocoa-rich chocolate may have protective benefits for your heart.
Summary Cocoa can improve blood flow and reduce cholesterol. Eating up to one serving of chocolate per day may reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
Flavanols can cross the blood-brain barrier and are involved in the biochemical pathways that produce neurons and important molecules for the function of your brain.