As the ultimate mid-winter pick me up, we’re taking a blog moment to celebrate the pure tastebud magic that is cocoa. Warning: you might be jonesing for some chocolate by the end, but fear not: we’ve included some super easy and delicious recipes for that!
Humans have loved chocolate since almost the beginning of time. And to stack good news atop good news, cocoa powder offers us *oodles* of health benefits. Cocoa powder–we’re talking unsweetened cocoa powder, not milk chocolate (sorry, M&M fans)–is full of important nutrients that support a host of efforts across your body, from cardiovascular health to your mood. Here are 5 key health benefits of cocoa powder:
It’s Full of Antioxidants
Cocoa powder is rich in polyphenols, particularly flavanols. In fact, cocoa boasts the highest concentration of flavanols of any food! The flavanols in cocoa have been well studied and can help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, fight cell damage, and prevent blood clots. The flavanols in cocoa have also been shown to have promising anti-cancer properties in test-tube and animal studies, but data from human trials is lacking.
It May Support Cardiovascular Health
Did you know cardiovascular disease is the number 1 cause of death in the western world? Not exactly the best conversation starter for your next cocktail party, but it's true. And it’s not a disease that only affects your grandpa’s poker buddies. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. But there is good news: consuming polyphenol-rich foods, particularly cocoa, is linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and stroke. Other polyphenol-rich foods to keep your eye on: fruits, vegetables, tea and wine.
Many epidemiological studies have shown that consuming cocoa, fruit and veggies can lower blood pressure, improve vascular function, fight inflammation, and improve glucose and lipid metabolism in healthy people and those with risk factors.
It has Immune Boosting Properties
Studies show that extra dark chocolate (50%-70% cacao) can help to strengthen your immune system, albeit a bit indirectly. Here’s how:
Thanks (again) to the high polyphenol levels in cocoa, it is extremely anti-inflammatory. As we know, inflammation is our immune system's response to an irritant. It can be acute (think the swelling from a sprained ankle) or chronic (like asthma). So, reducing inflammation is a way that cocoa is lessening your immune system's workload. Plus, polyphenols can help the body fight lesser forms of inflammation so your immune system can focus on the serious threats. Immune health is also dependent on blood flow (it is, after all, it’s primary mode of transport) which is also improved by the polyphenols in chocolate. Plus, cocoa is an excellent source of fiber, which we know contributes to a healthy gut, another immune system supporter.
It’s a Mood and Energy Booster
Dark chocolate is known as a “joy stimulant,” which is one of the most awesome ways anything has ever been described. It contains a wide variety of feel good chemicals, two of the more familiar being serotonin and tryptophan. Dark chocolate boosts serotonin in the brain, which evokes feelings of calm. In one study, subjects who consumed just 1.5 ounces of chocolate per day reported feeling calmer and more content.
Cocoa is also a natural energy booster, containing healthy doses of caffeine, theobromine and magnesium. Theobromine is similar to caffeine but milder and longer lasting (win-win, right?), and found in higher concentrations than caffeine in cocoa. Together, caffeine and theobromine have shown to be responsible for humans' love for cocoa as well as the feelings of calm and alertness we experience after consuming chocolate.
It Can Help Regulate Metabolism and Feelings of Fullness
The polyphenols in cocoa have been found to be great metabolism boosters and can help your body to metabolize dietary fat. Because it gives a metabolism boost while helping our bodies regulate our energy use, cocoa is thought to help increase our feeling of fullness and satiation. Plus, it’s a surprisingly great source of dietary fiber, which also helps promote feelings of fullness after a meal.
How to Choose a Cocoa Powder
It is important to remember that processing cocoa powder into chocolate substantially reduces the polyphenol content, so not all chocolate is created equal, flavanol-wise. If you’re stocking the pantry with cocoa powder to use in baking and smoothies, be sure to reach for natural cocoa powder or cacao rather than dutch-processed cocoa. This is easier than you might think–Hershey’s and Ghiradelli cocoa powders, both readily available in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, are naturally processed. General rule of thumb: the higher the cocoa percentage, the better. Make sure the first ingredient listed is cocoa or chocolate.
Our Favorite Ways to Use Cocoa Powder
Cocoa Mojo Smoothie
- 1 Everipe Cocoa Mojo Smoothie Kit
- 1 cup of ice
- 1 cup of almond, oat, or coconut milk
Blend and enjoy the taste and health benefits of cocoa!
Thanks to the natural sweetness in the fruits in our smoothie kits, these brownies are low in added sugar (just ½ of maple syrup!) and get a chocolatey superfood boost from our superfood pack.
½ cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 Coco Mojo smoothie kit
¼ cup cocoa powder
¾ cup almond flour
1/8 tsp salt
Chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 6x9 baking pan with parchment paper.
Add ingredients (except chocolate chips) into blender in the order listed above. Blend until smooth. Add to prepared pan, top with chocolate chips if desired. Bake 20-25 minutes. Enjoy!