Cocoa is thought to have first been used by the Maya civilization of Central America.
It was introduced to Europe by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century and quickly became popular as a health-promoting medicine.
Cocoa powder is made by crushing cocoa beans and removing the fat or cocoa butter.
Today, cocoa is most famous for its role in chocolate production. However, modern research has revealed that it does indeed contain important compounds that can benefit your health.
Here are some health and nutrition benefits of cocoa powder.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring antioxidants found in foods like fruits, vegetables, tea, chocolate and wine.
They have been linked to numerous health benefits, including reduced inflammation, better blood flow, lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels (1Trusted Source).
Cocoa is one of the richest sources of polyphenols. It’s especially abundant in flavanols, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
However, processing and heating cocoa can cause it to lose its beneficial properties. It’s also often treated with alkaline to reduce bitterness, which results in a 60% decrease in flavanol content (1Trusted Source).
So while cocoa is a great source of polyphenols, not all products containing cocoa will provide the same benefits.
Cocoa, both in its powdered form and in the form of dark chocolate, may be able to help lower blood pressure (2Trusted Source).
This effect was first noted in the cocoa-drinking island people of Central America, who had much lower blood pressure than their non-cocoa-drinking mainland relatives (3Trusted Source).
The flavanols in cocoa are thought to improve nitric oxide levels in the blood, which can enhance the function of your blood vessels and reduce blood pressure (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
One review analyzed 35 experiments that provided patients with 0.05–3.7 ounces (1.4–105 grams) of cocoa products, or roughly 30–1,218 mg of flavanols. It found that cocoa produced a small but significant reduction of 2 mmHg in blood pressure.
Additionally, the effect was greater in people who already had high blood pressure than those without it and in older people compared to younger people (3Trusted Source).
However, it’s important to remember that processing significantly reduces the number of flavanols, so the effects most likely will not be seen from the average chocolate bar.