coffee in a cup, cocoa in your coffee

Is there an advantage to putting cocoa in your coffee? Recent research suggests that people consuming this flavorful combination improve their performance on certain cognitive tasks.

The study was double blind, so some subjects got coffee only, some cocoa only, some the combination and some a placebo beverage. They did challenging identifications of letters and numbers on the computer.

Why Is It Good to Put Cocoa in Your Coffee?

People who got cocoa in their beverages (with or without coffee) committed fewer false alarm errors. Those who drank the combination of cocoa with coffee were less anxious than those who drank coffee alone. They also were more accurate than those who drank only cocoa or placebo.

The chocolate maker Hershey Company supported the study, so we will want to see these results confirmed by further research. But putting cocoa in coffee is tasty and not harmful, so it might be worth a try. In fact, it might be the thinking person’s drink.

Boolani et al, BMC Nutrition, Jan. 13, 2017 

How Much Cocoa?

According to ConsumerLab.com, a tablespoon of cocoa powder contains between 37 and 130 mg of cocoa flavanols. These are believed to be the active compounds in cocoa and chocolate providing health benefits such as blood vessel relaxation and lower blood pressure (Vlachojannis et al, Phytotherapy Research, Oct. 2016). Research shows that compounds in coffee called methylxanthines improve the absorption and function of cocoa flavanols (Sansone et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2017). That sounds like a good reason to put cocoa in your coffee, as we do nearly every morning.

If you are wondering whether there are side effects from drinking this type of beverage, it appears that cocoa is safe. In one study, 34 healthy adults consumed up to 2000 mg of cocoa flavanols daily for 12 weeks (Ottaviani et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dec. 2015). The researchers, who got support from the Mars Company, found no side effects, even at that extremely high dose. Putting a daily tablespoon of cocoa in your coffee would result in a much lower exposure to cocoa flavanols than that.

 

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  1. Joe
    Staten Island NYC
    Reply

    I listen to your PODCAST’s, in the past 88.3 FM Newark NY Jazz station Monday nights. I’m putting in the Coco in my coffee, I wasn’t sure of the measurements, 2 heaping teaspoons of coco to coffee 16oz ? might be more then the table spoon, other emails indicate.

  2. James
    Hearne, Texas
    Reply

    We purchase Kroger house brand coca powder in the 1 lb cans found in the baking section of stores, often out of sight on top shelf.
    I like the taste of the coca powder in brewed coffee (relatively weak at our house compared to many restaurants, where I rarely order coffee.)
    I also take 2 caps of WalMart Turmeric most mornings.
    Age 73 and hoping some of this helps me keep going.

  3. Cindy M. B.
    Seattle, WA
    Reply

    Like CL in Pennsylvania, I immediately wondered about the type of chocolate, as I too have read that most cocoa is processed with alkali, and, thus it’s not good for us.

    BUT HERE’S ANOTHER QUERY: While coffee is now reputed to be good for us by almost every researcher, I’ve repeatedly read that one should NOT add cream and sugar (or, one would assume, cocoa?), because this supposedly negates many of the nutritional benefits of coffee. I still don’t have a good idea of HOW MUCH they’re referring to. Maybe ANY AT ALL?

    I don’t like black coffee, and I do put half-&-half in my coffee though no sugar. I’m hoping this is OK but I really don’t know. And now, the prospect of adding cocoa too?

  4. Sue
    Houston, TX
    Reply

    All the questions above are valid and need to be answered before anyone knows for sure what do! I am surprised that such specifics were left out.

  5. Lila-Jean
    Manitoba
    Reply

    Chronic fatigue – is there anything for it? I am 73 & so tired I can barely get through a day! Get up, 1/2 hr ready to lay down again.
    All blood work is ok. Thank you!

    • Gary
      Cape Town, SA
      Reply

      Not a doctor or 73 years old, but I am 32 and living for pass 5 years with terminal heart failure(Defect, not obesity or cholesterol. So I am no stranger to the dreaded fatigue. Personally I eat mostly fruits some veg and try and few meats. I try to get in a half cup of pasta or rice for carbs and potatos boiled or baked. Also waching that you dont have too much water weight is important for the heart which can cause fatigue symptoms. If you getting enough potassium that shouldnt be too bad ie, potatos, avocado, papaya, bananas. Though not to make this too long a story, fatigue can usually be a result from unbalanced diet, so making sure you get the Cal/energy intake needed for the body to atleast do its basic functions and a little extra of you are walking about. Best is to get it from natural sources and not breads and other processed foods. Pasta being my exception, since its too conveneitn and fun to eat LOL Hope you have a wonderful long life to 100+ with a spring in your step :D

      • Christian
        Hawaii
        Reply

        Hey Gary, Awesome thanks for the inspiration,informaton, I am amazed at your strength to carry on with such a devastating illness. My Fiance, and best friend for 15 year’s recently lost her battle with Crohn’s disease, Thanks for the nutritional advice and keep on keeping on!!(-:

    • Christian
      Hawaii
      Reply

      You are absolutely right! My thoughts exactly, I see you’re from Manitoba, I think that’s in Canada, I actually played hockey in the area when I was just a kid, I think there’s so much information about nutritional supplements, diet etc. Too much, most of it is pseudoscience(IMHO)

  6. CL
    Pennsylvania
    Reply

    But is all cocoa created equally? Must admit to being conflicted a little given some related information I heard in the past on People’s Pharma podcast… I thought I understood at one point that plain old supermarket cocoa has been alkali treated and made the cocoa fundamentally ineffective from a healthful standpoint (maybe I misunderstood but does that chemical treatment eliminate beneficial cocoa flavanols)? The Mars CocoaVia product apparently is not chemically treated in this way and therefore is supposedly the most healthful… But unfortunately the CocoaVia contains the rare earth element of “un-afford-iuym” and just cannot fit in my budget…

    • Carol H
      Florida
      Reply

      I am 72 and had the same fatigue problem. I added 2 soft gels of Qunol Ultra CoQ10 daily and I noticed a big difference. It is only $28.00 for 100 mg., 120 softgels at Walmart. It is too expensive at other stores.

    • Sam
      United States
      Reply

      To CL from Pennsylvania:

      I know you have said that your blood tests came out normal but you are still exhausted. Have you had a complete thyroid panel? If your doctor is only checking your TSH, it is not the complete picture. You can order independent lab tests if your doctor refuses to do it. Some independent labs sell home tests for bloodwork etc. on Amazon where you can have a home test done for anything from thyroid to adrenals etc. Check out this website on thyroid:

      https://stopthethyroidmadness.com.

    • Dave
      New Jersey
      Reply

      Hershey’s cocoa powder, the stuff our moms always kept in their baking cabinet in the brown container (and found in every grocery store from time immemorial), is the good stuff (it’s not alkali “Dutched”). I think you can buy the Dutched stuff (the container is brown and red I think), but I’ve never seen it in anyone’s baking cabinet before.

      I’ve experimented with it quite a bit, and it definitely improves sexual function for me and, anecdotally, in many middle-aged guys. It may not do much for younger guys because their nitric oxide pathways are fully functional. I think the cocoa polyphenol that potentiates nitric oxide production is known as (-)epicatechin. I’m pretty sure most previous studies found that 40 grams was the efficacious dose (that’s about 5 tablespoons) which is hard to get into the diet in my view. I tried to make a hot chocolate out of it (with stevia) – it wasn’t the greatest b/c 100% cocoa is really bitter (as is stevia). However, if coffee potentiates its effect, maybe brewing a smaller dose in coffee will remove some of the bitterness and provide the benefits. I’m certainly going to give it a shot. One final thing: I think there is also research showing that cocoa powder acts as a myostatin inhibitor, thereby preventing muscle loss in middle-age and older people. Here again, I think this benefit only inures to older people and not younger people.

  7. Pamela
    Raleigh, nc
    Reply

    Your advice and knowledge is so very helpful to many many of us out here in this world! You give advice I can trust!
    Pamela M

  8. Bob
    Boca Raton, FL
    Reply

    The article did not mention whether it was talking about sweetened or unsweetened cocoa powder. I’m a little concerned about that as I must watch my sugar intake.

  9. Sally
    FL
    Reply

    How – 1 Tbl of plain cocoa added to a cup of already made coffee?

  10. Daniel
    Port Orchard, WA
    Reply

    Your article, while interesting, contains a rather glaring omission, namely, the *specific* kind of cocoa used in the studies is not identified. I strongly suspect that any healthful benefits will be derived from using unsweetened cocoa powder, (or even the less processed cacao), rather than a sweetened form like hot cocoa mix, but the article leaves this point ambiguous.

    A suspicious person might think that that’s exactly what Hershey’s and Mars (the sponsors of the studies featured) might be hoping for, and I’m sure less ethical reporters will fall for that. I trust The People’s Pharmacy, and I hope you can clarify this for us.

    • Terry Graedon
      Reply

      We don’t know what cocoa was used, though it was almost certainly supplied by Hershey. We are pretty sure that it was an unsweetened cocoa. To try this at home (why not?), look for a natural unsweetened cocoa powder and put a tablespoon in the bottom of your cup with 2 tablespoons of hot water before you put the coffee in. As ConsumerLab.com points out, most cocoa powder has cadmium. To avoid excess cadmium, you won’t want more than one cup a day with Ghirardelli or Hershey cocoa in it.

  11. Ellen
    Reply

    I recently received an alert from Consumer Lab re high levels of toxic metals cocoa and dark chocolate (especially nibs). The buildup of cadmium (human half-life of 10 to 35 years) is of considerable concern to me. I am reducing my chocoholic lifestyle instead of adding to it.

  12. Herbie
    Cary, NC
    Reply

    I started adding cocoa to my morning coffee after listening to your show on the benefits of cocoa (made sense, I’ve always liked mochachino). I put equal parts coffee beans and cocoa nibs in my hand held coffee grinder and add it to my aeropress for an excellent cup. I also add a teaspoon of beet root powder and local honey – I consider this my morning medicine based on many of the insights I’ve gained from your program. Thanks!

  13. Betty
    Wisconsin
    Reply

    I don’t know that I ‘thunk’ any better by drinking coco in my coffee, but I sure liked it. I figured if the Aztecs could drink bitter coco and hot water, no sweetener, I could sure drink bitter cocoa mixed into my hot black coffee.

    I was really surprised, but I loved it. I got some organic cocoa powder at a spice store, and used it up doing that. Must get some more for that purpose. Did I think any clearer? I don’t know.

  14. Liz B.
    DFW, TX
    Reply

    I’ve been adding a 1/2 teaspoon of cocoa powder to my coffee for years. I’m delighted to know it might have benefits. For me, coffee just tastes better with chocolate!

  15. Kim
    McGregor,Iowa
    Reply

    So am I putting this tablespoon in with my ground coffee prior to brewing?
    Am I putting in my mug? Do you have more specifics here, as it is rather vague.

    Thank you

  16. Mary
    Reply

    Does it matter whether the coffee is caffeinated or decaf?

  17. kate
    Salisbury NC
    Reply

    What about the risks of cadmium in cocoa? What are acceptable levels? I learned about this through your watchful eye, as reported in one of your weekly e-newsletters. I then went on “the hunt” for cocoa with no cadmium and Penzey’s customer service says their cocoa powder is tested & has no cadmium. So that’s what I use now

  18. Domenic
    Brooklyn
    Reply

    I read that common cocoa products, such as Hershey’s cocoa, do not provide cocoa flavanols as they are destroyed in the “dutching process” of manufacturing these products. That is why I stopped adding cocoa to my coffee several years ago! So, what’s the real story???

  19. Chris
    Iowa
    Reply

    Are you using plain cocoa powder unsweetened or cocoa and sugar to make a cocoa drink?

    • HEK
      Reply

      I shall try cocoa (I have Hershery’s in my larder) in my green tea, as I have never been a coffee drinker. I hope it tastes good enough to drink!

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