Cocoa Powder


Cocoa powder is just one of the many products we enjoy from the fruits of the cacao tree. Below we’ll take a look at exactly what it is, and the health benefits it offers.

What Is It?

Cocoa powder is, as you may have guessed, powder resulting from the processing of cacao beans. It is worth noting that cocoa powder and cacao powder are not the same [1] product, as they are processed differently. To make cocoa powder, the cacao beans are harvested from the ripened fruits of the cacao tree, then dried and fermented to create a stronger flavor.

Next the beans are ground up, which creates a paste from the beans’ naturally high cocoa butter content. This cocoa butter is removed, and is the part of the bean used to make chocolate. The leftover solids are then dried into a powder, which is good for a variety of cooking and baking applications.

What Is Its Biological Role?

Chocolate is largely seen as bad for us, but this reputation is due to the sweeteners and other ingredients mixed in rather than the cocoa itself. Cocoa powder [2] is considered healthier than the chocolate because the powder has no sweeteners, and lots of extra goodies not necessarily found in regular chocolate.

A teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa not only lends a chocolatey flavor to whatever you’re eating, but adds in almost ten percent of your recommended daily value of iron, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. This is a great way to ensure you get a boost in mineral intake if you don’t like taking multivitamins.

These minerals are absorbed during the digestion process and help with the production of red blood cells, strengthening the immune system and bones. Cocoa powder has a secret weapon, too: flavonoids. Flavonoids are the reason dark chocolate consumption has been promoted in certain health circles for years.

There are many different types, but two found in cocoa powder: catechin and epicatechin. These function as incredibly powerful antioxidants that fight harmful compounds in the body called free radicals. They also have an effect on the muscles lining our blood vessels, helping them to relax.

This in turn lowers blood pressure, reducing the risk for heart disease. Of all forms of chocolate products, cocoa powder is the best source of these minerals and flavonoids; additional processing and the introduction of sweeteners detracts from the proffered benefits.

The polyphenols in cocoa powder are also touted for their ability to aid in weight loss, as they prevent the enzymatic actions that allow fat from our food to be absorbed into our body.

How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

Adding unsweetened cocoa powder to shakes or using it as an added ingredient in salad dressing or dry rubs for meat is a good way to get all the benefits mentioned above without extra calories.

Unsweetened cocoa powder is the most abundant source of polyphenols, flavonoids, and concentrated mineral in terms of type of chocolate. This means adding some to your diet wouldn’t add very much in terms of calories but would give you a boost in all of these plus some additional fiber.

Combining that nutritional benefit with the reduction in fat absorption offered by polyphenols could give you an edge in the gym and allow you to get even more out of your fitness regime.

What Foods Contain It?

Unsweetened cocoa powder is usually found in baked goods, and sold by itself for baking at home. It can also be used in other processed or health foods, to include protein shake mixes and protein meal bars. Sweetened cocoa powder can be found primarily in instant hot chocolate packets.

How Much Of It Do You Need?

Cocoa powder is not considered a necessary part of a healthy diet, and so there is no officially recognized daily requirements. However, to reap the health benefits of cocoa powder, many people drink a cup (or two) of unsweetened hot cocoa daily, or add a big spoonful to their morning coffee to create a mocha-type beverage. You can also add small amount of cocoa powder to steak rubs or salad dressings to boost your intake of this healthful ingredient.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

Most individuals need not be concerned with consuming too much cocoa powder, as it only hold the potential for negative effects with a select group of people. If you are caffeine sensitive or have a history of developing kidney stones, then cocoa powder may not be a good idea for you.

This is because cocoa powder naturally contains [3] some amount of caffeine, which can adversely affect caffeine sensitive individuals and cause kidney stones in those prone to the problem.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

There are no risks associated with consuming too little cocoa powder. Regardless, it is an excellent dietary source of flavonoids, and not consuming may prevent you from reaping the benefits of these compounds.

While by no means a miracle food, cocoa powder does offer some great health benefits that may help justify a new morning tradition of hot cocoa!

References:

[1] McClees, Heather. Cacao vs. Cocoa: What You Need To Know. Onegreenplanet.org, 2016.

[2] Ashton, Meghan. Cocoa Powder Health Benefits. Livestrong.com, 2013.

[3] Mccoy, William. Is there Caffeine In Cocoa Powder?. Livestrong.com, 2015.