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.

For substantiation of any statements of fact from the peer-reviewed medical literature, please see the associated videos below.

Image Credit: Pablo Merchán Montes / Unsplash. This image has been modified.

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