Ancient Maya and Aztec civilization first used cocoa and it was regarded as “foods of the Gods” (Theobroma cacao), they also used it in treating a lot of health problems ranging from digestion to fatigue.
Cocoa powder is one of the oldest foods in the world and also the healthiest foods we have now. Its use dates back to over 4,000 years, some historians believe it predates the Mayans all the way back to the pre-Colombian tribes.
Cocoa was also used in body rituals and medicine during this pre-historic times and the popularity of cocoa seems to endure all through these years and the immense health benefits are responsible for this.
Till date, cocoa still remains one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
How Is Cocoa Powder Made?
Cocoa powder is gotten from cocoa beans (the seeds in cocoa pods), these seeds are fermented, then grinded and pressed to eliminate the natural butter called cocoa butter.
You will be left with a dry and bitter powder after removing the butter. This powder is very nutritious but has a strong and bitter taste.
This powder is rich in a lot of vital nutrients like fiber, sugar, polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, Saturated fat, fiber, and carbohydrates.
B vitamins are the most concentrated in cocoa but it also contains other important vitamins like vitamin E, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, vitamin K, folate, thiamin, vitamin B6, etc.
It is also dense in essential minerals like magnesium, calcium, manganese, selenium, copper, potassium, iron, zinc, and phosphorous. Phosphorous, magnesium, copper, and manganese are the most abundant minerals in cocoa.
Note that all these nutrients are only present in unsweetened cocoa powder, those brands containing sugar and other additives have lesser nutritional values.
Mechanisms of Action of Cocoa powder
Cocoa powder is a storehouse of flavonoids, a powerful phytochemical with a lot of wonderful health benefits. One of the main functions of flavonoids in the body is to increase the production of nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide is produced by the blood vessels, this compound dilates the blood vessels thereby making it wide and improving their functions. It also prevents the constriction and obstruction of blood vessels which can lead to stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cardiovascular disease.
Another way flavonoids promote optimal health is by decreasing the production of free radicals, free radicals are responsible for a lot of health complications such as cancer, rapid aging, and other metabolic diseases. Flavonoids also prevent the destruction of fats in your blood.
Flavonoids balance the levels of glucose in your body and prevent diabetes by slowing down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. Flavonoids also protect your brain and prevent cognitive decline.
Impressive Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder
Boosts Sex Urge
Cocoa powder is an aphrodisiac, it increases sex urge and appeal, it contains phenethylamine, a mood-enhancing neurochemical which help in the release of endorphins.
Endorphins are released when we fall in love and it improves your sex life.
Stabilize Blood Pressure
Cocoa powder has the ability to stabilize your blood pressure thus fighting low and high blood pressure. This is due to the abundant amount of flavonoid in this super food.
Flavonoid controls your blood pressure and also improves the elasticity of your blood vessels like the veins thus preventing obstruction and enhancing the flow of blood to all parts of the body.
Cocoa powder fights fatigue and increases energy. It has a healthy amount of caffeine and magnesium also. Just 2 tablespoons of cocoa can give you about 14% of your daily requirement of magnesium, a mineral needed to keep your body energized naturally.
One of the healthiest ways to keep your body awake and energized is by consuming cocoa.
Rich in Antioxidants
Cocoa powder has a lot of powerful antioxidants that promote optimal health. Its antioxidant activity can be compared to that of red wine, black tea, and green tea.
These antioxidants fight free radicals in the body, thus preventing chronic diseases like cancer, rapid aging, DNA mutation and other genetic problems and diseases.
Prevents the Formation of Wrinkles
Unsweetened cocoa powder keeps wrinkles at bay and gives you a beautiful and flawless skin with a natural glow. This is because it is rich in polyphenols, these compounds protect your skin cells from oxidation that leads to premature aging and wrinkles.
It also improves the appearance of your skin and its texture, it improves the hydration of your skin, improves microcirculation and maintains a youthful appearance. Regular intake of cocoa powder in your diet will make you appear more youthful and brighten your complexion.
Cocoa butter is also applied on the skin to moisturize it and fight skin dryness. It keeps your skin soft and smooth.
Improves Brain health
Cocoa powder boosts brain health, its rich content of flavonoid help you maintain a healthy brain and boosts cognitive functions. Cocoa powder also has a neuroprotective effect on your brain, it enhances learning ability, memory, and competency.
Cocoa powder enhances the flow of blood to the brain and cure vascular diseases. It improves memory and cognition and it prevents age-related forgetfulness and cognitive impairment.
Some studies also suggested that cocoa can be used in the treatment of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s . Sufficient intake of cocoa powder on a daily basis will give you a healthy memory and keep your brain young.
Protects your Gut
Your gut is 80% of your immune system, it contains healthy bacteria called probiotics that help your body fight off foreign and harmful microbes. The fibers and flavonoids in cocoa powder serves as foods for these probiotics when digested, this, in turn, boosts their growth and functions.
This will ensure that only the good bacteria which promote health thrive and flourish in your gut. This will boosts your digestive system and improve your overall health.
Maintains Healthy Levels of Cholesterol
Cocoa can correct abnormal levels of cholesterol and glucose in the body, it normalizes both high and low levels of cholesterol and glucose and it drastically reduce the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body.
It also reduces the levels of triglycerides in the body and increase the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood. All these will reduce the risks of high blood pressure and chronic diseases like stroke and heart disease which are the leading cause of deaths on the planet.
Protects your Teeth
Scientists through studies have discovered that cocoa powder can prevent tooth decay. This is because some compounds present in cocoa powder have antibacterial activities which help in fighting plaques, tooth decay, gum disease, and cavities.
These compounds are even more effective than fluoride in toothpastes. Cocoa powder also contain a compound called CBH, this compound protects your enamel and hardens it.
If you want to protect your teeth, increase your intake of cocoa powder.
Diabetes damages the metabolism of glucose in your body and it is a silent killer. Cocoa powder fights hypermetabolism of glucose in your body and also prevents insulin resistance.
Cocoa powder regulates the concentration of sugar in the bloodstream and it contains a good amount of proanthocyanidins, this compound prevents the formation of cataracts caused by diabetes.
Another research also suggests that cocoa powder contains protective antioxidants that help treat nephrotoxicity and other type of long-term diabetes that can worsen the complications of diabetes in patients.
Boosts your Metabolism
Unsweetened cocoa powder contains polyphenols, these compounds boosts your metabolism especially when taken in the morning and this helps you maintain a healthy weight.
This encourages faster weight loss and it increases the ability of your body to metabolize dairy fats consumed from foods and prevent these fats from being deposited as fatty tissues in your body.
Cocoa powder has a great impact on your metabolism and prevents one from gaining excessive weight.
Cures Bronchial Asthma
Unsweetened cocoa powder heals complications of the bronchi, it contains alkaloids like xanthine and theophylline which helps in relaxing bronchial spams, constricted opening, and bronchial tubes.
This, in turn, will relieve the symptoms of asthma, improve breathing, and cure chronic allergies and all the causes of asthma and shortness of breath.
Cocoa powder fights and prevents inflammation by improving your immune system, it increases the production of white blood cells in your body, and these cells produce substances that protect the body from inflammation and infections caused by microbes.
Cocoa powder also improves the response of the immune system, this helps the body repairs damaged tissues and responds well to chronic diseases and injury.
There is no doubt that cocoa powder heals the body, ancient civilizations have depended on this super food for a lot of health problems and even in our modern times, pharmaceutical industries use cocoa extracts in making some drugs for healing and wounds.
Scientists also regard cocoa powder as an active agent and they use it to prevent the growth of infectious bacteria in your body thus fighting infections. It is even combined with antibiotics to eradicate H. pylori (the causal organism for ulcer) from the body.
Detoxifies the Body
Unsweetened cocoa powder detoxifies the body by increasing the metabolism of fat, this leads to detoxification of the body and weight loss.
It also has a high content of fiber and a low content of calorie to help with this process.
Unsweetened cocoa powder fights excessive weight gain by modulating lipid metabolism thereby reducing the production of fatty acids.
It also increases thermogenesis, the production of heat in the body, this helps in burning excess fat.
Improves your Immune System
High consumption of unsweetened cocoa powder boosts your immune system and guards against chronic diseases and infections. Cocoa powder contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids.
These compounds prevents cell damaged caused by oxidation, they improve your immune system response, and your overall health.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
Cocoa strengthens the blood vessels and prevents obstruction of the blood vessels, this, in turn, protects and improves cardiovascular health.
It contains powerful biochemicals like procyanidins, epicatechin, and catechin, these compounds have powerful antioxidant properties which protect your heart and strengthen its cells.
Cocoa powder prevents the formation of blood clots in your blood vessels, this prevents severe cardiac arrests, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
Improves Hair health
Cocoa powder improves the health of your hair and your hair texture also, it fights infection of the scalp because it is dense in anti-inflammatory substances.
Cocoa powder stops hair breakage, splitting, and it improves the flow of blood to the scalp. It is highly nutritious and contains almost all the nutrients the hair needs for a healthy growth.
It strengthens the strands of your hair, it makes your hair grow, and also gives it a healthy shine.
Unsweetened cocoa powder is a powerful mood booster, it improves your mood, release the levels of your stress, and makes you happy. It also fights depression and mental exertion.
Cocoa powder contains a neurochemical called phenylethylamine, it has an aphrodisiac effect and promotes a feeling of satisfaction.
Cocoa powder also fights mood swings caused by hormonal imbalance, it also balance the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. This is why dark chocolates are helpful to women during PMS and menstruation when the levels of serotonin drops.
Cocoa powder corrects changes in the levels of hormones and promotes a general feeling of well-being.
Unsweetened cocoa powder help to control appetite and this is helpful for those who want to lose weight. Just inhaling the aroma of cocoa powder alone can reduce your desire to eat.
Results from blood hormone tests suggest that the aroma of cocoa stimulates your olfactory sensors, this, in turn, will suppress the secretion of ghrelin, the hormone in charge of appetite and hunger.
In a study, a group of women were asked to sniff 30g of dark chocolate containing 85% cocoa solids and 3.75g of sugar. They were also allowed to melt in their mouth before swallowing it.
Both those who sniffed it and those who swallowed it noticed that their appetite had reduced. If you are trying to lose weight, cocoa powder can help you do that by controlling your appetite and this, in turn, will control your food intake.
Unsweetened cocoa powder is of great benefits to people suffering from constipation. It is rich in fiber and it also has powerful therapeutic effect on the digestive system.
Cocoa powder treats bowel function diseases and other complications of the digestive system, its rich content of fiber prevents constipation and cancer of the colon.
It also prevents intestinal, colonic, and rectal diseases and it enhances the movement of bowels. Cocoa powder softens the consistency of stools thereby relieving gastrointestinal discomfort.
There is hope from some scientific findings that dark chocolate can boost vision and correct some abnormalities. June 2018, a study/clinical trial was carried out to observe the change after consuming dark chocolate versus milk chocolate in the contrast sensitivity and visual acuity of 30 people.
Those who took dark chocolate bar had higher visual acuity and contrasts sensitivity within 2 hours of eating dark chocolate bars when compared to those who took the milk chocolate.
Research has shown that cocoa powder inhibits the growth of cancerous cells and also protects the growth and development of healthy cells at the same time.
It also has powerful anti-proliferative properties, this heals cancer using flavonols and procyanidins. There are lots of records of cocoa powder being used in treating cancer of the colon and prostate because of its effective anti-cancer properties.
Promotes Skin Care
Cocoa maintains a healthy skin and fight skin problems, it is one of the most common natural ingredients used in making skin care products and cosmetics.
Flavonoids which are present abundantly in unsweetened cocoa protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. It also fights roughness of skin and scaling.
Cocoa powder also improves the elasticity of your skin, it hydrates your skin, makes it firm, and improves its density. Cocoa stimulates the production of hemoglobin, this increase the flow of blood to your skin and makes it glow.
Cocoa-based skin care products are used to treat skin sensitivity and allergies.
Is Cocoa Powder Safe for Consumption?
Cocoa powder is absolutely safe but you have to be careful when buying it, not all brands are that healthy.
Heavy metal contamination
Some are contaminated with little traces of heavy metals such as cadmium and lead and this happens if they are gown in soils containing this heavy metals.
Note that these heavy metals can also be found in other plants, especially if they are grown in contaminated soils.
If you want to consume more of cocoa powder, then you have to increase your intake of foods rich in calcium, iron, and zinc, because they reduce the amount of cadmium your body absorbs from foods.
Take Unsweetened only
If you want to be on the safe side when consuming cocoa powder, go for the unsweetened ones. Don’t take sugar-sweetened cocoa powders or hot chocolate because the sweeteners in these ones reduce the potency of the cocoa powder and also cause problems in the body.
All the benefits mentioned in this post are based on unsweetened cocoa powders. For health and therapeutic purposes, opt for unsweetened cocoa powder or cocoa nibs.
Does Cocoa Powder Have Side Effects?
Even though scientists encourage one to take enough of cocoa powder to have sufficient levels of flavonoids, too much of a good thing can still be bad.
When taken in very high doses (and this depends on your body, the amount your body can handle at a time), it can cause caffeine addiction because it contains little amounts of caffeine.
When there is an excess of caffeine in your system, you will experience the following:
- Irregular heartbeat, sleeplessness, and increased urination
- It can aggravate the case of an existing gastro-esophageal reflux disease
- It can aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders
- When a breastfeeding mother consumes too much of caffeine, it can cause abdominal discomfort and crankiness in the little baby.
Don’t take cocoa powder or caffeine close to your date of surgery, this will prevent uncontrollable blood sugar from interfering with the surgery.
In some individuals, excessive intake of cocoa can cause the following reactions:
- Nausea, gas, and other digestive discomforts
- Skin reactions
- Headaches and migraines
Take cocoa powder moderately, it shouldn’t be done in excess to prevent all these from happening.
Warnings and precautions
Cocoa powder is completely safe even for pregnant and breastfeeding women but they should only take in moderation.
High consumption of cocoa might not be safe for the fetus because it contains caffeine, it can cross the placenta and increase the concentration of caffeine in the blood of the fetus.
There are some controversial studies suggesting that high doses of caffeine during pregnancy can cause premature birth, low birth weight, and miscarriage.
When a breastfeeding mother consumes high amounts of caffeine, it can cause frequent bowel movement and irritability in the new born.
How to Use Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
Please note that mixing sugar with your cocoa powder can reduce or nullify these health benefits. Try and take in its unsweetened forms and go for brands that have not gone through much processing.
The exact amount of dark chocolate powder to add to your diet on a daily basis is not yet clear but you can take as much as you can so far it is not sweetened and has no other additives.
You need a very high amount of flavonoids on a daily basis for a perfect heart health, therefore you can take as much of unsweetened cocoa powder as you can on a daily basis.
Make sure you go for less processed and unsweetened cocoa powder, also, ensure that the brand you are buying has a very high content of flavonoid.
Healthy ways of consuming cocoa powder and adding it to your diet are:
- Eat good quality dark chocolate on a daily basis, the chocolate should be made of up at least 70% dark chocolate.
- Mix cocoa powder with your favourite drink, it can be a dairy or a non-dairy drink, you can even make a chocolate milk shake.
- You can add cocoa powder to your favourite smoothie, this will make it rich nutritionally and give it a chocolate taste.
- Add raw cocoa powder to homemade puddings like rice pudding or chia breakfast pudding
- Make a vegan chocolate mousse blend the following together; avocado, cocoa powder, and almond milk. Add natural sweetener like dates or honey.
- Cocoa powder can be sprinkled over fruits like strawberries and bananas before eating.
- Add your cocoa powder to a granola bar mixture and eat. This will enrich the flavor and increase the health benefits.
- Cocoa powders can be used in making homemade cookies and brownies
Does Cocoa powder React With Drugs?
Yes, there are some drugs that shouldn’t be taken with cocoa, it can interact with these drugs and affect their influence on your body. If you are on any medication, make sure you ask your doctor if it is safe to take cocoa powder while you are on the drugs.
Cocoa powder interacts with drugs for diabetes, depression, and asthma. It also interacts with theophylline, phenylpropanolamine, ergotamine, dipyridamole, and clozaril.
The presence of caffeine in cocoa can also interfere and influence the effects of drugs which are usually prescribed before a diagnostic test is carried out for the heart.
Avoid caffeine-rich beverages like cocoa before embarking on a cardiac examination so that you can have an accurate result.
- Cocoa WebMD