Small human studies on cocoa and cancer suggest that it can be a powerful antioxidant and may play a role in cancer prevention. However, much more research is needed (37).
Summary The flavanols in cocoa have been shown to have promising anti-cancer properties in test-tube and animal studies, but data from human trials is lacking.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes obstruction and inflammation of the airways and can be life-threatening (38, 39).
It’s thought that cocoa may be beneficial for people with asthma, as it contains anti-asthmatic compounds, such as theobromine and theophylline.
Theobromine is similar to caffeine and may help with persistent coughing. Cocoa powder contains about 1.9 grams of this compound per 100 grams or 3.75 ounces (38, 39, 40).
Theophylline helps your lungs dilate, your airways relax and decreases inflammation (39).
Animal studies have shown that cocoa extract can reduce both the constriction of the airways and tissue thickness (38).
However, these findings have not yet been clinically tested in humans, and it’s unclear if cocoa is safe to use with other anti-asthmatic drugs.
Therefore, even though this is an interesting area of development, it’s too early to say how cocoa may be used in treating asthma.
Summary Cocoa extract has demonstrated some anti-asthmatic properties in animal studies. However, human trials are needed before it can be recommended as a treatment.
Several studies have explored the protective effects of cocoa against dental cavities and gum disease.
Cocoa contains many compounds that have antibacterial, anti-enzymatic and immune-stimulating properties that may contribute to its oral health effects.
In one study, rats infected with oral bacteria that were given cocoa extract had a significant reduction in dental cavities, compared to those given only water (2).
However, there are no significant human studies, and the majority of cocoa products consumed by humans also contain sugar. As a result, new products will need to be developed to experience the oral health benefits of cocoa.
Despite popular opinion, cocoa in chocolate is not a cause of acne. In fact, cocoa polyphenols have been found to provide significant benefits for your skin (2).
Long-term ingestion of cocoa has been shown to contribute to sun protection, skin blood circulation and improve the surface texture and hydration of your skin (41, 42. 43).
Summary Cocoa can promote healthy teeth by fighting bacteria that cause cavities, though this does not apply to sugar-containing products. It also promotes healthy skin by protecting it from sunlight and improving circulation, the skin surface and hydration.
The exact amount of cocoa you should include in your diet to achieve health benefits is not clear.
The European Food Safety Authority recommends 0.1 ounces (2.5 grams) of high-flavanol cocoa powder or 0.4 ounces (10 grams) of high-flavanol dark chocolate containing at least 200 mg of flavanols per day to achieve heart health benefits (44).
However, this number has been deemed too low by other researchers, who claim higher amounts of flavanols are required to see benefits (1, 45).
Overall, it’s important to select cocoa sources that have a high flavanol content — the less processed, the better.
Fun ways to add cocoa to your diet include:
Eat dark chocolate: Make sure it’s good quality and contains at least 70% cocoa. Check out this guide on selecting high-quality dark chocolate.
Hot/cold cocoa: Mix cocoa with your favorite dairy or nondairy milk for a chocolate milkshake.
Smoothies: Cocoa can be added to your favorite healthy smoothie recipe to give it a richer, chocolatey taste.
Puddings: You can add raw cocoa powder (not Dutch) to homemade puddings like chia breakfast puddings or rice pudding.
Vegan chocolate mousse: Process avocado, cocoa, almond milk and a sweetener like dates for a thick vegan chocolate mousse.
Sprinkle over fruit: Cocoa is particularly nice sprinkled over bananas or strawberries.
Granola bars: Add cocoa to your favorite granola bar mixture to bump up the health benefits and enrich the flavor.
Summary For heart health, include 0.1 ounces (2.5 grams) of high-flavanol cocoa powder or 0.4 ounces (10 grams) of high-flavanol chocolate in your diet. Adding cocoa can give a delicious chocolate taste to your dishes.
Cocoa has captivated the world for thousands of years and is a big part of modern cuisine in the form of chocolate.
Health benefits of cocoa include decreased inflammation, improved heart and brain health, blood sugar and weight control and healthy teeth and skin.
It’s nutritious and easy to add to your diet in creative ways. However, make sure to use non-alkalized cocoa powder or dark chocolate containing more than 70% cocoa if you want to maximize health benefits.
Remember that chocolate still contains significant quantities of sugar and fats, so if you’re going to use it, stick to reasonable portion sizes and combine it with a healthy balanced diet.