Surprising Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder

Many people crave chocolate but avoid it because they're under the impression that it's fattening and unhealthy. Although a lot of chocolate products are unhealthy and calorie dense, it's due to the addition of substances such as sugar and not to the cocoa itself.

Cocoa powder is rich in antioxidants and may be good for your heart and brain. (Image: YelenaYemchuk/iStock/GettyImages)

In fact, cocoa powder, which comes from the cacao bean, is highly nutritious and can provide numerous health benefits.

Cocoa Nutritional Facts

A 2-tablespoon serving of cocoa contains just 25 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. It also provides you with 4 grams of fiber, which is about 16 percent of the daily value of 25 grams (based on a 2,000-calorie diet), in addition to 1.5 milligrams of iron and 54 milligrams of magnesium.

Cocoa Antidepressant Effects

Cocoa may also provide antidepressant benefits as it contains the substance phenethylamine, which is a neurotransmitter found in the brain that acts as a mood elevator and natural antidepressant.

The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) states that cocoa may also have the ability to boost endorphins, which act as natural "happy" opiates and are responsible for the highs that are often felt after exercising, laughing, having sex or winning the lottery.

UMHS also says that cocoa may boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter that antidepressants target in order to boost overall happiness levels.

Cocoa and Antioxidants

Cocoa contains approximately 43.6 milligrams of flavonoids per gram. Flavonoids are part of a powerful group of antioxidants known as polyphenols, and according to Medical News Today, cocoa is one of the highest polyphenol-containing foods.

In addition, hot cocoa contains more antioxidants per cup than a serving of red wine or tea, and ScienceDaily explains it may even be the healthiest choice of the three. Science Daily also states that drinking cocoa may help to fight cancer, heart disease and aging through its antioxidant-boosting effect.

Medical News Today warns, however, that the antioxidant-containing flavonoids are mostly removed from many commercial cocoa powders because of their bitter taste. In order for you to obtain the most health-boosting benefits, consider buying raw cocoa powder, which is minimally processed.

Additional Cocoa Benefits

In addition to the possible health benefits of cocoa powder, UMHS says that cocoa may lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, reduce the risk of blood clots, increase blood flow to the arteries, lower high blood pressure, boost cognitive performance and provide essential minerals such as calcium and potassium.

A study published in 2015 by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effects of cocoa flavanol on cognitive function in older people. This study found that regular consumption of cocoa flavanol can help maintain healthy cognitive function as a person ages.

Source of Caffeine and Oxalates

Despite all of the possible benefits, UMHS warns that cocoa contains caffeine, which may have negative effects, such as insomnia, on caffeine-sensitive individuals. It also contains oxalates, and increased oxalate levels can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. If you're prone to kidney stones, you should avoid consuming cocoa and chocolate.

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