10 Ways Cocoa Powder Can Help You On The Keto Diet

Published January 10, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">How Chocolate is Made</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Benefit #1: Flavor</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">Benefit #2: It Makes Us Happy</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">Benefit #3: Cocoa Functions as a Prebiotic</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Benefit #4: Cocoa is Rich in Antioxidants</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">Benefit #5: Cocoa Gives You Energy</a></li> <li><a href="#section7">Benefit #6: Cocoa Makes Our Brains Work Better</a></li> <li><a href="#section8">Benefit #7: Cocoa is Heart Healthy</a></li> <li><a href="#section9">Benefit #8: Cocoa Increases Blood Flow</a></li> <li><a href="#section10">Benefit #9: Cocoa Can Right Magnesium Deficiencies</a></li> <li><a href="#section11">Benefit #10: Cocoa Has Just Enough Caffeine</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>There’s an old saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Well, if you’re on keto, a starchy apple might not help you hit your macros for the day, so in lieu of apples, we offer an alternative: chocolate. You’re probably very familiar with chocolate and its many forms: cheap Nestle and Hershey bars loaded with sugar, expensive chocolates from little boutiques, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, hot chocolate, and the new kid on the block: cacao. We are going to dive into cocoa powder specifically as that’s the form you will want to include in your keto diet as well as discuss the ten big benefits of this amazing food.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/chocolate-chipped-up-0045.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/chocolate-chipped-up-0045.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/chocolate-chipped-up-0045.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/chocolate-chipped-up-LR-0045.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="chocolate-chipped"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section1"> <header>How Chocolate is Made</header> <p>Enter the cacao tree, also known as <i>Theobroma cacao</i><sup>1</sup>. It grows in the tropics of South America and produces seeds called cacao beans. These beans are chocolate in its rawest form. That’s right, chocolate is technically a legume!</p> <p>Once these beans are harvested, they are fermented out in the open. They sit in wooden bins with no lids and are turned over every few days, developing a soft, white exterior of fermented skin and fermented by-product before they are ready to be dried. And here is where cacao is separated from cocoa. With cacao, the beans are dried and that’s that. You can eat the beans in that state just as they are, but the taste is bitter and nutty. To sweeten the beans and make cocoa, the dried product is heated and ground up. While it is very easy to find cacao nibs on the shelf, whole cocoa nibs that haven’t been turned into a paste and chilled back together are harder to come by.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cocoa-beans-in-hands-0045.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cocoa-beans-in-hands-0045.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cocoa-beans-in-hands-0045.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cocoa-beans-in-hands-LR-0045.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="cocoa-beans"> </picture> <p>A touch of flame is all that separates cacao from cocoa. And when you go from heated cocoa to fermented cacao to cacao beans, you increase the nutrients of this <superfood / link to article> exponentially. However, to go out and eat a cacao bean will wreak havoc on your stomach if your microbiome doesn’t have the right bugs to break it down. After all, it is a legume, and raw legumes produce their own toxins to protect themselves. Cacao makes for a good diet staple only if you have a strong stomach. For example, certain gut health programs like Gut Thrive in Five with The Whole Journey recommend people with IBS or bacterial overgrowths avoid cacao for their own comfort<sup>2</sup>.</p> <p>This is where cocoa shines. Even on the Low-FODMAP diet, a diet meant to alleviate a range of digestive issues, cocoa powder is allowed. And get this: most of the benefits we’ll talk about with cocoa powder, like the antioxidant levels and magnesium doses, are still the most concentrated within this one food than any other non-chocolate food on the planet. Cocoa might not be the most nutrient-potent food that the <i>Theobroma cacao</i> tree has to offer, but it still has a strong leg up against most of the other foods in your pantry. </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section2"> <header>Benefit #1: Flavor</header> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cocoa-powder-and-chocolate-0045.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cocoa-powder-and-chocolate-0045.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cocoa-powder-and-chocolate-0045.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cocoa-powder-and-chocolate-LR-0045.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="cocoa-powder-and-chocolate"> </picture> <p>Who can argue with the rich, creamy, feel-good flavor of chocolate? Although the keto diet does not have room for chocolate bars, using your <keto-friendly sweetener/ link to article> of choice in conjunction with cocoa powder can turn any dish into a yummy chocolate treat.</p> <p>Cocoa is also far sweeter than its cacao counterparts, and it doesn’t require any sugar to make it so. Out of one-half cup of cocoa powder (an amount no recipe will call for) the macronutrient ratio of carbs to proteins to fats is 25:8.5:6 <sup>3</sup>. Yes, that’s a lot of carbs, but again, you will never need to add that much cocoa powder to any baking dish, and all of those carbs are complex carbs, so they release slowly and don’t hurt your blood sugar levels. You can make peanut butter chocolate fat bombs as a qualified keto snack, or sprinkle some cocoa powder on top of your chia pudding for a dusting of flavor on your delicious keto dessert. It’s still the same sweet taste we all love, just without the added sugar that comes in a candy bar.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section3"> <header>Benefit #2: It Makes Us Happy</header> <p>When we eat cocoa, we get a little happy, partially because we are eating that delicious flavor, and good food can put you in a good mood. But also because cocoa is well-known for its ability to increase happy hormones in the brain, hormones like serotonin and dopamine<sup>4</sup>. But did you know that 90 percent of all the serotonin in your body is made in your gut<sup>5</sup>? This connection gives way to cocoa powder’s third health advantage.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section4"> <header>Benefit #3: Cocoa Functions as a Prebiotic</header> <p>The new field of science that is rapidly growing and encompassing every part of medicine is the study of our <i>microbiomes</i>. We have pathogens, both good and bad, in our digestive tracts and on our skin. While <i>probiotic</i> pills and fermented foods are resurfacing in our diets as beneficial for these complex networks of pathogens, a second component to microbiome health is consuming plenty of food for these pathogens, called <i>prebiotics</i>. </p> <p>Cocoa functions as a prebiotic<sup>6</sup>. This means that when you eat cocoa, you are not only giving your brain happy hormones, but you are giving your gut reason to be happy, too.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section5"> <header>Benefit #4: Cocoa is Rich in Antioxidants</header> <p>Most dark-, blue-, or purple-colored foods, like beets, blueberries, and purple cabbage contain high amounts of <i>polyphenols</i>. Polyphenols function as food for the good bugs in our guts and as antioxidants in our bodies cells<sup>7</sup>. And cocoa powder can proudly say that it offers your plate the most of these compounds. </p> <div class="sub-head">Why are antioxidants important?</div> <p>When the cells in our body are dealing with an abundance of outside toxins via pollution, smoking, medication, and poor diet, etc., we call it <i>oxidative stress</i>. Oxidative stress can be measured by the abundance of <i>free radicals</i> bombarding the cell and encumbering its ability to function. When we eat foods rich in little molecular components called <i>antioxidants</i>, our cells get the help they need to clean up the free radicals and come out of oxidative stress<sup>8</sup>. And clean products of cocoa have the highest amount of antioxidants of any food on earth.</p> <p>Cocoa powder has more antioxidants than <i>red wine</i><sup>9</sup> even, which few can scoff at. In fact, the concentration of antioxidants in cocoa powder is so potent that it’s been proven to prevent cancer<sup>10</sup> and reverse the growth of cancer cells<sup>11</sup>. Along with high amounts of polyphenols giving way to an abundance of antioxidants, cocoa powder also has one of the highest amounts of flavonoids and magnesium among any food on the market. </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section6"> <header>Benefit #5: Cocoa Gives You Energy</header> <p>This is because of the high amounts of flavonoids in cocoa<sup>12</sup>. Flavonoids are ketone-containing compounds naturally found in certain plant foods (Hey! Ketosis!). Because of their ketone structure, they have been found to increase energy in several clinical trials<sup>13</sup>.</p> <p>This ability to boost energy is also tied to the flavonoid’s relationship with mitochondria, tiny bacteria within our human cells that are in charge of generating the energy for our cells to function. The type of flavonoids specifically found in cocoa has been reported to trigger and aid in the creation of new mitochondria<sup>14</sup>, which means when we eat cocoa powder, we are encouraging our cells to create fresh new energy factories. </p> <p>However, you cannot get this high concentration of flavonoids from just any form of chocolate, which is why we advocate for cocoa powder to meet your chocolate fix. The processing that turns cocoa powder into dark and semi-sweet chocolate removes most of these flavonoids<sup>15</sup>. They are present in milk chocolate, but studies have reported that the milk found in milk chocolate alters the flavonoids, removing their benefits to the human body<sup>16</sup>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section7"> <header>Benefit #6: Cocoa Makes Our Brains Work Better</header> <p>Our brains require a lot of energy. Repeat: a <i>lot</i> of energy. In fact, evolutionary science theorizes that our brains were able to grow as big as they did because we started cooking our food. Cooking food breaks it down into more digestible components and saves our body the energy of having to break it down from scratch as other animals do. With this saved energy our intestinal tracts were able to shorten and our brains able to grow. Our brains, weighing in around three pounds each, use up about one-third of the energy our bodies create. In short, the fourth benefit of cocoa feeds into this fifth benefit, but there’s even more that cocoa does for our brains. </p> <p>The flavonoids found in cocoa have been proven to <i>improve cognitive function</i> in mice in clinical trials<sup>17</sup>. Even going so far as to stymie degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s<sup>18</sup>. This advantage goes beyond cocoa’s energy-boosting effects as cocoa’s flavonoids are small enough to transfer from our bloodstream to inside our brain’s cells, called <i>neurons</i>. The pair gets along really well, as do our next most important organ.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section8"> <header>Benefit #7: Cocoa is Heart Healthy</header> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/heart-in-cocoa-powder-0045.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/heart-in-cocoa-powder-0045.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/heart-in-cocoa-powder-0045.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/heart-in-cocoa-powder-LR-0045.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="heart-in-cocoa-powder"> </picture> <p>Everyone has heard of the Cheerios slogan that they are heart healthy and help to fend off heart disease, but the ingredient list on the box says otherwise. Cocoa’s heart benefits are not like the fake claims of Cheerios.</p> <p>Cocoa helps the heart work more efficiently, plain and simple. Increased intake of cocoa’s flavonoids are reported to have very good effects on <i>cardiometabolic markers</i> <sup>19</sup>. In simpler terms, this means that people who ate more cocoa powder were shown to have a decreased risk of heart disease<sup>20</sup>. These flavonoids are also shown to reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol<sup>21</sup>. Better than Cheerios, cocoa powder can give your heart a healthy boost.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section9"> <header>Benefit #8: Cocoa Increases Blood Flow</header> <p>Our heart’s job is to push blood through our circulation system; this blood, in turn, delivers nutrients and important resources to all of our cells while picking up wastes. Studies show that, on top of the better cholesterol and heart disease marker advantages, the flavonoids in cocoa powder also increase blood circulation <sup>22</sup>. This translates to a less stressed heart, as it has to work less for the same results. </p> <p>There are added plus sides to increased circulation, like glowing healthy skin, healthy tissues and organs, and warmer extremities. When all of our cells are efficiently nourished and taken care of, the health benefits of all of our hard work can be optimized. </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section10"> <header>Benefit #9: Cocoa Can Right Magnesium Deficiencies</header> <p>Much like it’s antioxidant prowess, cocoa has the highest amount of magnesium known to man. It’s followed by goji berries and spinach, but it doesn’t contain anti-nutrients like spinach or simple sugars like goji berries do.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/chocolate-cookie-dough-0045.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/chocolate-cookie-dough-0045.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/chocolate-cookie-dough-0045.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/chocolate-cookie-dough-LR-0045.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="chocolate-cookie-dough"> </picture> <p>Why is this helpful? In the Standard American Diet, there is a high rate of magnesium deficiency due to the depleted soil of conventional farming and lack of vegetable intake. Magnesium is a critical electrolyte and micronutrient our bodies need from the basics at the cellular level all the way up to how our systems function. For example, a person deficient in magnesium may suffer from constipation as magnesium is necessary for our bowels to move our food, or they might suffer from muscle fatigue or spasms as it is also needed for proper nerve health and muscle contraction. </p> <p>Magnesium is also noteworthy as it is required to make healthy red blood cells. Women tend to crave chocolate during certain times of their cycle because the body knows where it can get a heavy dose of magnesium in a small amount of food, just like how we can turn to chocolate when we feel sad, because of cocoa’s positive effects on the brain.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section11"> <header>Benefit #10: Cocoa Has Just Enough Caffeine</header> <p>By “just enough” we mean that twenty-five grams of cocoa have about 60 milligrams of caffeine<sup>23</sup>. That’s enough to wipe the sleep out of your eyes during the day when our bodies are waking up. But unlike coffee, which has anywhere from 95 to 126 milligrams of caffeine, the amount of caffeine in chocolate isn’t enough to interfere with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. This means you can have cocoa powder before bed and not worry about tossing and turning all night. </p> <p>Morning, evening, and all the times in between, cocoa powder is a great food to include in your diet. Better for ketosis than the proverbial apple, cocoa packs a whopping load of health advantages in a flavor we all know and love. If you’re interested in incorporating more cocoa powder into your diet, check out our <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/" rel="noreferrer">RECIPE</a> section for delicious chocolaty treats and plenty of cocoa inspiration!</p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma_cacao" rel="noreferrer">Theobroma cacao</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/TWJ/GT5_PlanS_DietaryGuidelines_MealPlans_ShoppingLists.pdf" rel="noreferrer">Plan S Dietary Guidelines</a></li> <li>My Fitness Pal</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19942640" rel="noreferrer">Consumption of cocoa flavanols</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="http://www.caltech.edu/news/microbes-help-produce-serotonin-gut-46495" rel="noreferrer">Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/93/1/62/4597700" rel="noreferrer">Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835915/" rel="noreferrer">Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614697/" rel="noreferrer">Free Radicals, Antioxidants in Disease and Health</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.clalit.co.il/NR/rdonlyres/0E352AC4-D1A9-481F-A31A-BB4491DD6017/0/journal_of_agricultural_and_food_chemistry_2003_51_7292_7295.pdf" rel="noreferrer">Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19043659" rel="noreferrer">Neuroprotective effect of cocoa flavonoids</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19838930" rel="noreferrer">Cancer protective properties of cocoa</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575938/">The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3302125/#!po=22.7273" rel="noreferrer">Eating dark and milk chocolate</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25143004" rel="noreferrer">Recovery of Indicators of Mitochondrial Biogenesis</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(07)61873-X/fulltext" rel="noreferrer">The devil in the dark chocolate</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2003Natur.424.1013S" rel="noreferrer">Plasma antioxidants from chocolate</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575938/" rel="noreferrer">The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24957018" rel="noreferrer">Cocoa extracts reduce oligomerization of amyloid-β</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27683874" rel="noreferrer">Cocoa Flavanol Intake and Biomarkers</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942736/" rel="noreferrer">Cocoa Polyphenols and Inflammatory</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/85/3/709/4633008" rel="noreferrer">Continuous intake of polyphenolic compounds containing cocoa powder</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/circulationaha.107.713867" rel="noreferrer">Dark Chocolate Improves Coronary Vasomation</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5471/2" rel="noreferrer">Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20049372" rel="noreferrer">Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda and more</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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