When you think of cocoa, you're probably reminded of your favorite decadent dessert or candy bar. Yes, cocoa is indeed often an ingredient in both of these treats, but it's certainly not what gives them their sweet taste.
A byproduct of cocoa beans, cocoa powder is what is left over after cocoa butter is extracted from the bean. While cocoa butter is high in fat and calories, the powder is low in calories, loaded with fiber and nutrients, and provides a host of health benefits. Studies have shown that cocoa powder is associated with decreased blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels.
These heart-healthy benefits can be attributed to the flavonoids found in cocoa. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant that help protect us from cell-damaging free radicals, which otherwise can promote the onset of chronic diseases and can even induce aging!
If your heart hasn't skipped a beat just yet, you should know that cocoa powder also contains important minerals like copper, manganese, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Still not convinced that an ingredient in chocolate could be this nutritious? Cocoa contains fiber, which helps to keep you full longer and has been shown to provide digestive health benefits too.
Now, this doesn't mean you should go raid your local supermarket for chocolate bars. After all, just because cocoa is good for you doesn't mean that everything else in chocolate is! All the added sugars and fat are what makes it taste so good, although they're not good for you.
Instead of reaching for your all time favorite candy bar, choose one that is 70 percent cocoa. Or, try cocoa this way:
As a swirl!
--Swirl it in your morning oatmeal for a sunrise treat with a little cinnamon as a replacement for a sweet breakfast.
--Swirl it into your afternoon Greek yogurt to liven up a plain snack.
--Swirl it into your evening chili recipe for a new kick to an old favorite.
As a rub!
--Add it to chili pepper flakes, cumin, and paprika for a hot Mexican chicken dish.
--Add it to coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves for a savory pork tenderloin.
--Add it to cinnamon, paprika, dry mustard, and cumin for an interesting twist on salmon.
As a sip!
--Use it to make REAL hot chocolate, and stir with a peppermint stick for winter yummmm.
--Blend frozen cherries, low-fat milk, ice, and a teaspoon of honey for a chocolate-cherry smoothie.
--Add it to your morning coffee for a little mocha magic.
For more great ways to use cocoa, check out my new book The New You and Improved Diet!
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City, and Nutritious Life Meals, a gourmet, healthy, daily diet delivery program available across the U.S. She is a member of Women's Health Magazine's advisory board and has authored three books: Slim Calm Sexy Diet, The O2 Diet, and The Snack Factor Diet. Her expertise is regularly featured on the Today show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live, among others, and she hosts "A Little Bit Better" on Youtube's Livestrong Woman channel. Read more of Keri's tips every day on Facebook!