Look online and you will find a slew of information on how chocolate is good for you. It can cure everything from depression to some types of cancer, can help you lose weight and even improve cognitive abilities. On a closer examination, you will find that the studies cited have been funded at least in part by major chocolate manufacturers and examine cocoa powder rather than chocolates themselves.

For starters, cocoa powder has a distinctly bitter taste - milk solids and sugar are added to sweeten the taste to make most chocolate. In the refining process, much of the benefits of cocoa powder are blunted. In fact, even if you had raw cocoa powder, you would need to have it in large quantities before there are any health benefits. 

Cocoa has an abundance of flavonols which is responsible for the many health benefits. Flavonols are plant-based catechins that are known to have anti-inflammatory effects. So while there may be some health benefits of eating raw cocoa, remember that they are virtually non-existent in chocolate. Dark chocolate, which has a higher proportion of cocoa, is a better option, but still should not be considered a health food. 

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat chocolate—just do it moderately. The fact that you find it delicious and it cheers you up is enough reason to enjoy it. (Read more: Why does chocolate make you happier?)

  1. Cocoa powder benefits
  2. Takeaways

Now, looking strictly at cocoa powder, here are some health benefits:

Cocoa powder for high blood pressure

Several well-designed studies have shown that eating cocoa flavonols may reduce high blood pressure if taken for 6-8 weeks by 4mm Hg (for systolic) and 2mm Hg (diastolic). However, the studies involved very high amounts of cocoa and the effects were much less significant in lower quantities.

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Improves cognitive ability and memory

There have been many studies that have shown that high levels of cocoa based flavonol have improved cognitive performances on tests as well as memory. Researchers are researching the ability of cocoa to help with cognitive disorders as well, but this is still at a preliminary stage. Importantly, a very high dose of cocoa is required to deliver these results - as many as 7 chocolate bars according to one estimate. The added sugars and fat will outweigh the benefits in this case.

Reduces risk of heart disease

The antioxidant effects of flavonols reportedly reduce cell damage associated with heart disease. Further, cocoa is known to increase the amount of nitric oxide levels in the blood which is beneficial to the functioning of blood vessels.

Reduces the likelihood of stroke

The evidence of this is not sufficient as most studies have been observational meaning that causality has not been tested. The claims are based on the fact that cocoa seems to improve blood flow in the body which may reduce the likelihood of a stroke.

Anti-cancer abilities

Again, these findings are based on observational studies so do not imply causation. Test tube studies have shown that cocoa may inhibit uncontrolled cell growth, but this has not been confirmed in well-designed human studies.

Reduces stress

A study on pregnant women showed that cocoa consumption was associated with lower levels of stress. While the biological pathway is unclear and debated, cocoa products do have a calming effect since they are delicious and bring people together. In moderation, therefore, cocoa products may be beneficial.

As shown by this list, cocoa powder may have some beneficial effects, but if taken in large quantities. Speak with your dietician if you want to take cocoa for its health benefits. Supplements might be a better idea since chocolate delivers too much sugar and fat. 

Alternatively, fruits rich in flavonols such as apples are also healthy. Again, speak with your dietician about quantity. Health claims have the tendency to be over the top and inaccurate, it is therefore a good idea to speak with an expert or do your research thoroughly. 

Medicines / Products that contain Cocoa

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