Cocao has believed to have first been used by the Mayan civilization in Central America as far back as 900 AD where it was highly revered for its medicinal and healing properties.

Cocoa was then brought back to Europe by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century where it was promoted as a luxury medicine.

These days, cocoa is mainly used in the production of milky, delicious chocolate. Since we’re talking about cocoa being used to make sweets rather than for medicinal purposes, it’s raw health benefits are often overlooked or misunderstood.

Modern-day research has shown that when consumed in its raw form, or used as an unsweetened powder, it actually does yield a number of health-boosting properties.

The best news for keto-dieters is that raw cocoa is completely sugar-free, so there’s no limit to the amount you can use in your recipes.

Let’s take a look at the numerous health benefits to introducing cocoa powder into your diet as well as some of the ways that you can incorporate it other than for the purpose of making sweets.

Weight Management

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, cocoa can actually help you manage your weight.[1]

Some studies have shown that those who regularly introduce cocoa into a low-carbohydrate diet can maintain a lower BMI than those who don’t. It’s also believed to help regulate the body’s energy use, reducing your appetite and helping you feel full for longer.

Bear in mind; this only applies for low-sugar cocoa powder or chocolate, not milk or white.

Lower Blood Pressure

One of cocoa’s major beneficial compounds is called flavanol and it’s responsible for most of the health points we’ll cover in this article.

In this case, flavanols are believed to improve the levels of Nitric Oxide [2] in our blood, boosting our blood vessels functionality and reducing blood pressure. When cocoa is processed into chocolate, it loses a lot of its flavanols, so you’ll want to stick to powder or dark chocolate with a high cocoa content.

Lower Risk of Stroke or Heart Attack

Not only can the flavanols in cocoa lower your blood pressure which can ultimately impact the risk of stroke or heart attack…

Cocoa has also been found to improve blood sugar levels, decrease the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, reduce inflammation, and even have a natural blood-thinning property, similar to aspirin.

Protect Against Cancer

It’s believed that flavanols have anti-cancer properties [3] due to their antioxidant effects, inhibiting cell growth, protecting cells from damage caused by reactive molecules and generally helping to prevent cancer cells from spreading.

Although more research is needed for its direct benefits, cocoa does have the highest concentration of flavanol by weight out of every other food, so including it in your diet is definitely beneficial.

Boost Your Brain

When flavanols increase the performance and health of your blood vessels, it improves the blood flow to your brain, and even cross the blood-brain barrier to play a critical role in producing the neurons that form important biochemical pathways.

Cocoa also contains a compound called polyphenol, which has been linked to improving brain function [4] and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Improve Your Mood

Not only can cocoa positively affect your brain function, but it can also help improve your mood [5] and decrease feelings of depression.

While this could be due to the flavanol and polyphenol content, it could be because a compound called tryptophan is converted to serotonin, or due to cocoa’s caffeine content. While the effects need to be researched further, some studies have linked chocolate consumption to reduced stress and higher emotional well-being.

Help Control Diabetes

While eating too much chocolate is definitely not good for managing blood sugar levels, cocoa does actually have some anti-diabetic effects.

Flavanol has actually been shown to improve insulin secretion, stimulate the transfer of sugar from the blood to muscle, and slow down the rate that carbohydrates are digested and absorbed in the gut.

These can help reduce the potential risk of contracting Type II Diabetes.[6]

Healthy Skin

Despite chocolate being frequently linked to acne and poor skin health, this is likely due to the sugar content in most mass-produced chocolate as opposed to the cocoa content.

The polyphenols in cocoa have been shown to aid the circulation of blood in your skin [7], help protect against the sun’s UV rays, improve your skin’s texture, and even keep it hydrated for longer.

Better Oral Hygiene

There are compounds in cocoa that are believed to contribute to oral health [8] due to their anti-enzymatic and antibacterial properties.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to heavily-sweetened chocolate, but studies have shown a reduction in cavities and plaque buildup with frequent cocoa consumption.

Chewing on raw cocoa nibs may be a bit bitter for some, but it’s the best way to make the most of these benefits!

Cocoa also contains a compound called CBH, which helps harden tooth enamel, protecting them from decay.

Easy to Eat

Due to its low-calorie and low-carb content, introducing cocoa to your keto diet is extremely simple, and can be done in a variety of delicious ways. Bear in mind that you need to be choosing less-processed and low-sugar cocoa or chocolate to truly reap the health benefits.

You can make hot cocoa easily by using raw cocoa and a low-carb, unsweetened milk of your choice, or even add it to a healthy keto smoothie.

If you’re eating chocolate, you want high-quality dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa, or you can use cocoa powder to make any number of tasty keto desserts. Online you’ll find a keto version for virtually every chocolate-based dessert you can think of.

Bottom Line

Chocolate is an integral part of our culture and there’s no reason to avoid it while on keto as long as you remember that some chocolate—even the healthier varieties we discussed in this article—can still contain a lot of sugar, so you’ll want to be careful what you eat and monitor your portion sizes.

Not only does it taste great, but it’s definitely worth eating for its health benefits!

Related Reads:

Is Almond Butter Keto Friendly? 4 Key Benefits

5 Amazing Health Benefits of Turmeric

The Benefits Of Grass Fed Beef: The Ketogenic Diet

5 Amazing Health Benefits of Macadamia Nuts

References:

[1] Ali F, Ismail A, Kersten S. Molecular mechanisms underlying the potential antiobesity-related diseases effect of cocoa polyphenols. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014 Jan;58(1):33-48. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201300277. Epub 2013 Nov 21.

[2] De Araujo QR, Gattward JN, Almoosawi S, Silva Md, Dantas PA, De Araujo Júnior QR. Cocoa and Human Health: From Head to Foot–A Review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016;56(1):1-12. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2012.657921.

[3] Martin MA, Goya L, Ramos S. Potential for preventive effects of cocoa and cocoa polyphenols in cancer. Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 Jun;56:336-51. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.02.020. Epub 2013 Feb 22.

[4] Desideri G, Kwik-Uribe C, Grassi D, Necozione S, Ghiadoni L, Mastroiacovo D, Raffaele A, Ferri L, Bocale R, Lechiara MC, Marini C, Ferri C. Hypertension. Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study. 2012 Sep;60(3):794-801. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.112.193060. Epub 2012 Aug 14.

[5] Sokolov AN, Pavlova MA, Klosterhalfen S, Enck P. Chocolate and the brain: neurobiological impact of cocoa flavanols on cognition and behavior. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Dec;37(10 Pt 2):2445-53. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.06.013. Epub 2013 Jun 26.

[6] Zamora-Ros R, Forouhi NG, Sharp SJ, González CA, Buijsse B, Guevara M and other authors. The association between dietary flavonoid and lignan intakes and incident type 2 diabetes in European populations: the EPIC-InterAct study. Diabetes Care. 2013 Dec;36(12):3961-70. doi: 10.2337/dc13-0877. Epub 2013 Oct 15.

[7] Neukam K1, Stahl W, Tronnier H, Sies H, Heinrich U. Consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa acutely increases microcirculation in human skin. Eur J Nutr. 2007 Feb;46(1):53-6. Epub 2006 Dec 11.

[8] De Araujo QR, Gattward JN, Almoosawi S, Silva Md, Dantas PA, De Araujo Júnior QR. Cocoa and Human Health: From Head to Foot–A Review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016;56(1):1-12. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2012.657921.

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Jessica Cotzin is a freelance writer, web developer, and avid traveler. Born and raised in South Florida, she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Multi-Media Journalism from Florida Atlantic University and currently resides in Miami Beach. Her passions lie in reading great literature and traveling the world, bumping blindly into new adventures.

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