Boost Blood Flow with Cocoa

Laura Brieser-SmithA warm mug of cocoa on a chilly winter day is one of life’s great pleasures. But did you know that cocoa can improve your health by boosting blood flow? A recent study conducted on older adults with hypertension and/or diabetes showed that drinking just 2 cups of cocoa a day for a month was associated with improved blood flow and cognition.

So, what makes cocoa so special? Cocoa and dark chocolate contain a group of compounds called flavonols. These chemicals are found naturally in the cocoa bean. There are many types of flavonols found in a variety of foods. While all flavonols provide protective benefits to the body, cocoa flavonols affect the circulatory system and help to maintain the flexibility of arteries. If your arteries lose their flexibility, they can no longer expand with each beat of your heart, which can lead to high blood pressure. In addition, the brain relies on a steady supply of blood to bring the nutrients and oxygen necessary for brain function. The better the flow of blood, the better the brain functions. Researchers theorize that this is helpful not only for older adults but also for anyone in a situation that might cause impairment in brain function, such as fatigue or sleep deprivation. Improved blood flow may improve other areas such as exercise performance and skin health, as well.

How much cocoa do you need to see benefits? While there is no official dietary recommendation, it appears from the research that 2.5 grams of high flavonol cocoa powder is enough to provide benefits. Most of the coca powder sold in grocery stores is not a high flavonol type, but even regular cocoa powder will be beneficial. If you decide to use Dutch-processed (also called alkalized) cocoa, the flavonol content will be lower yet. The benefits of this type of cocoa powder are that some of the acidity has been neutralized and it dissolves more easily in liquids. These factors make it the best choice when making hot cocoa. If you decide to use this type of cocoa powder, you will need roughly 1 ½ – 3 ½ tablespoons to obtain 2.5 grams of flavonols. Keep in mind that instant hot chocolate packets are not as good, since most of them use milk chocolate and/or are more processed so that they contain fewer flavonols.

Laura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. She is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at

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