By Kristen Hicks-Roof PhD, RDN, LDN, CLC and Kristi Chapman DCN, RDN, LD

December 13 is National Cocoa Day. Cocoa was first cultivated in South America and is now consumed worldwide, with nearly 4.5 million tons of cocoa being consumed every year worldwide. Most packaged hot chocolates and chocolate bars are actually full of sugar and contain little cocoa, and therefore do not have many of the health benefits cocoa can offer; however, 100 percent cocoa powder can provide many nutritional benefits, let’s dive into some of those.

Reducing Inflammation: Cocoa powder has polyphenols, which are naturally occurring antioxidants that can help to reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol; however, when cocoa is processed into chocolate, the polyphenol content is decreased by 60 percent (Ludovici et al. 2017). 

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Heart Health and Insulin Resistance: Cocoa powder and dark chocolate are high in flavanols that have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and some studies have suggested a lower risk of insulin resistance and high blood pressure in adults (AHA 2019). Only one small serving of high cocoa dark chocolate can result in reducing risk of heart attack and stroke.

Cognitive Health: Research suggests that cocoa powder can help improve your attention span, verbal learning, memory, and attention. (Martin, Goya, and de Pascual-Teresa 2020)

Eating processed milk chocolate does not have nearly the health benefits of pure cocoa or dark chocolate, but cocoa is easy to include in your diet. This unsweetened powder can be added to a variety of foods. How can I do this?

  • Consuming one small piece of dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.
  • Add 100 percent cocoa powder over chocolate syrup to milk or ice cream to make hot chocolate or a milkshake.
  • Use cocoa powder to make homemade pudding.
  • Add cocoa powder into baked goods to boost nutrient profile with little caloric additions.

Kristen Hicks-Roof PhD, RDN, LDN, CLC, FAND is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Brooks College of Health, University of North Florida.

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