(Baptist Health) – While cocoa is most commonly served up hot and creamy in a mug, there are many uses for cocoa and actually quite a few health benefits. Cocoa is a highly concentrated powder made from chocolate liquor—a paste prepared from cocoa beans, the fruit of the cacao—and used in beverages and as a flavoring ingredient, according to Britannica.com. It’s believed that the plant was consumed by humans as early as 5,000 years ago. In addition to being used as a ceremonial drink by Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerican civilizations, the bean itself was once used as currency. In honor of National Cocoa Day in December, we’ve found ways to use this rich substance without breaking your calorie bank!
Health Benefits of Cocoa
Cocoa is rich in micronutrients polyphenols and powerful antioxidants flavanols, which help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol and blood sugars. However, processing cocoa into chocolate or other products can greatly decrease its health benefits. It’s even known to have antidepressant-like effects. (Drink up!) Natural, or non-alkalized, cocoa powder and dark chocolate provide the greatest health benefits though they may not taste as sweet as hot cocoa mixes you find on the shelves.
5 Unique Ways to Use Cocoa
- Add a Kick to Coffee: Whether you love espresso or brewed coffee, mixing in a little cocoa powder and almond milk will take your morning drink to the next level.
- Yum Up Yogurt: Plain Greek yogurt becomes a sweet, protein-packed breakfast or snack when you add cocoa powder and fresh or frozen fruit of your choice.
- Sweeten Your Salad: Cocoa nibs are crunchy, roasted pieces of the cacao bean that are often used as a dairy-free substitute for chocolate chips. But they can also have an unexpected flavor when paired with strawberry or citrus on your favorite salad. (Or try adding it to our Holiday Quinoa Salad.)
- Soothe Your Skin: Chocolate contains antioxidants that help tighten your skin. Mix equal parts of unsweetened cocoa powder, honey and yogurt into a creamy consistency then apply to the face for 15 minutes. Then rinse off and enjoy the sweet scent of your new glow.
- Breathe Deep: Over the years, studies have shown the smell of chocolate or cocoa can actually relax you.
RECIPE: Pump Up in the Protein in Your Hot Cocoa
Protein shakes, whether they are pre-made or powder, can be very versatile. We suggest turning your favorite chocolate protein shake into a delicious and festive hot cocoa drink. All you need to do is heat your favorite chocolate protein drink in a mug and then add your choice of festive flavor boosters such as:
- Peppermint or Vanilla extract
- Pumpkin spice or pumpkin puree
- Cinnamon sticks
- Sugar free whip cream
- Instant coffee or a shot of espresso
- Pure maple syrup