What Are the Health Benefits of Cocoa?

What Are the Health Benefits of Cocoa?

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, | By NutritionFacts.org | NUTRITIONFACTS.ORG is a science-based nonprofit organization founded by Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM,

Consuming one tablespoon of natural cocoa powder a day can significantly improve muscle strength, mass, and physical performance in older adults. This benefit is attributed to the flavonoids in cocoa, which are reduced in alkalized (Dutched) cocoa. Natural cocoa also enhances walking performance in people with peripheral artery disease by improving blood flow and mitochondrial activity in muscles.

What else can cocoa do? Regular intake of cocoa increases circulation within our skin, boosting it by 70 percent within two hours of consuming less than a tablespoon of cocoa. Do that every day and within three months, you end up with significantly improved skin thickness, density, and hydration. Keep that up for six months, and you’ll see a noticeable reduction in wrinkles and increased skin elasticity. (These studies were done with cocoa powder. If data becomes available for cacao, I’ll share.)

One of my favorite ways to make my life more chocolatey is with this Tart and Tangy Cran–Chocolate Pomegranate BROL Bowl. See the full recipe at https://buff.ly/4aQbEVF.

Watch the video “How Not to Age – Live Presentation” at https://buff.ly/3SW7ru6.
How Not to Age is out now https://buff.ly/48XNwiN.

See the Consumer Reports reference for choosing cocoa powders lower in heavy metals at https://buff.ly/47orPZn

We know that the sugar in chocolate isn’t good for us and neither are the fat and excess calories, but natural cocoa powder can be considered a health food.

Where Does Cocoa Come From?

Cocoa comes from the cacao bean. Like other beans, it has wonderful health-promoting flavanol phytonutrients, like those found in green tea.

What Are the Health Benefits of Cocoa?

Cocoa has been found to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, boost good cholesterol, unstiffen arteries, boost our immune system, combat the effects of aging, and help treat chronic fatigue. It’s also been found to improve artery function, even more so than açaí berries.

Isn’t Cocoa a Processed Food?

If you’re familiar with my work, you’ve heard me say countless times that we should choose whole plant foods, but, sometimes, processing can make foods even more healthful. Salt-free tomato juice, for example, appears to be the one common juice that may actually be healthier than the whole fruit. The processing of tomato products boosts the availability of the antioxidant red pigment lycopene by as much as fivefold. Similarly, the removal of fat from cacao beans to make cocoa powder improves the nutritional profile, because cocoa butter is one of the rare saturated plant fats (along with coconut and palm kernel oils) that can raise your cholesterol.

So, for the purposes of my Traffic Light model, I like to think of “unprocessed” as nothing bad added, nothing good taken away. In the above example, tomato juice could be thought of as relatively unprocessed because even much of the fiber is retained—unless salt is added, which would make it a processed food in my book and bump it right out of the green zone. Similarly, I would consider chocolate processed because sugar is added, but not cocoa powder.

Why Is Cocoa Processed with Alkali?

Flavanols are what give cocoa its bitterness, so manufacturers often try to process cocoa with alkali to destroy them on purpose to improve taste. Thus, when it comes to cocoa and its nutritional benefits, bitter appears to be better.

Regular Cocoa Powder vs. “Dutched” Cocoa

Alkali-processed cocoa, commonly known as dutched cocoa, is not as healthy as regular cocoa powder. Dutched cocoa can have as little as half the phytonutrients of regular cocoa, but that just means you have to use twice as much to get a rich, chocolatey flavor. Personally, I prefer the taste of dutched cocoa so much more than regular cocoa that I don’t mind doubling up to get the same nutritional benefit. If you prefer regular cocoa, you’re getting twice the bang per spoonful.


What do studies not funded by the chocolate industry show about the effect of cocoa on arterial health?

Dr Michael Greger Notes:

Which foods can increase collagen deposition and prevent wrinkles? What about all of the vegan “collagen” products on the market?

This is a three-part series on collagen. If you missed the others, see Do Collagen Supplements Work for Skin Aging? (https://nutritionfacts.org/video/do-c…) and Collagen Supplements for Arthritis (https://nutritionfacts.org/video/coll….

In my webinar (https://nutritionfacts.org/webinar/bo…) on the topic, I emphasize the last bit from my video about vitamin B12 deficiency by going through the research from How Not to Age (https://nutritionfacts.org/book/how-n…) demonstrating slower wound healing in vegans.

Did you know Dr. now has an audio podcast? You can subscribe to it on your favorite “pod-catcher” or listen to it at NutritionFacts.org/audio.

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Dr. Erin Mayfield is dedicated to empowering you to take control of your health through personalized, practical advice. One of the key strategies she advocates is ensuring you stay hydrated with at least 60 ounces of healthy beverages each day, such as water, herbal teas, and natural juices, while avoiding drinks that can cause DNA damage in your cells, such as sugary sodas and alcohol. By making these mindful choices, you can significantly improve your overall well-being.
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