The People's Perspective on Medicine

Why Should You Put Cocoa in Your Coffee?

If you put cocoa in your coffee, you'll absorb the cocoa flavanols more effectively and your brain will work better without undue anxiety.
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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, 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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Show 939: Health Benefits of Chocolate (Archive)
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Chocolate, delicious as it is, may appear to be nothing more than empty calories. Research has shown, however, that chocolate has very real health benefits. We discuss what those benefits are.

Show 939: Health Benefits of Chocolate (Archive)
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I add two tbsp of chocolate whey protein to my coffee (along with
a small amount of milk) in my 1st
34oz cup of the day. It tastes great,
and is very satisfying. I would recommend this to anyone, and hope they enjoy the mix as much as I do.
The 2nd 34oz cup is just coffee and a small amount of milk. I like the taste of coffee, and don’t drink any more for the rest of the day. Why would I need more?
I’m fully charged up, at that point, (by approximately 12N-1P)
though not manically so. Works for me; hope it does for you, too, if you
care to try your coffee this way

I drink raw cacao powder about 1 tablespoon mixed with coffee and maple syrup in the morning. I used to be extremely fatigued in the mornings, but now I find that I have more energy, and I am, curiously, less anxious. Found the raw cacao in a big-name chain retail store. The drink tastes and smells wonderful.

Have been drinking my AM coffee with 1 tblsp cocoa powder for 2-3 yrs and enjoy the taste and I hope, the health benefits as well. My question is: does the presence of milk/cream decrease those benefits in coffee as it as said to do in tea?

Re. the alkali processing question: It appears that when the dutch processed powder is used, the FDA requires that the companies involved specify that fact in the ingredient section. Opinion?

You have to use raw cacao powder to get any health benefits, store bought cocoa powder has been dutch processed. Around 90-95% of the good stuff is processed out, many stores are now carrying the raw form….The unprocessed cocoa has absolutely fantastic benefits, don’t waste your money on Hershey’s cocoa and the likes, if you are consuming it for the health benefits….


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.

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 teaspoons in one Tablespoon

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?

The issue is all the added sugar. Try drinking it as iced coffee, maybe with some reasonably nontoxic artificial sweetener like xylitol. If you really want milk, use full-fat milk.

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.

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!

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)

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

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…

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.

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:

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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

Does it matter whether the coffee is caffeinated or decaf?

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

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???

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

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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