Chocolate and cocoa are two of the high potassium foods. It is a surprise to many that they are high in potassium. The commonly mentioned high potassium foods are vegetables and fruits, especially bananas. However, cocoa is one of the foods highest in potassium. In one serving it can have 500 mg of potassium. It is also low in sodium, containing only 5 mg in the same amount of cocoa that gives you 500 mg of potassium. There are differences in the types of chocolate and cocoa that can make a big difference in their effects on the body.
How chocolate and cocoa are processed from the bean makes one of the biggest differences in its effect on health. There are two basic types of chocolate and cocoa – natural and Dutched. Which you use in cooking makes a difference in how you cook with them. Dutched has potassium carbonate added. This mellows the taste, neutralizes the acid, and increases the solubility.
With natural chocolate (the most common in the U.S.), you need to add baking soda to get a leavening effect. The Dutched chocolate will not leaven with the addition of baking soda, and most recipes call for baking powder, unless an acid such as orange juice is added. Most of the time the recipe will tell you which type of chocolate or cocoa to use and whether to use baking soda, baking powder or nothing.
Baking soda and baking powder add a great deal of sodium and thus reduce, or even eliminate, the beneficial effects of potassium on bone, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health. However, if you use the cocoa or chocolate for food that is not baked, you eliminate the concern about sodium.
Dutching makes a big difference in the potassium content, but the other details of processing make a difference in the fat and sugar content. A fun and thorough explanation of the process from harvest to final product can be found at http://www.grenadachocolate.com/tour/process1.html.
There are some aspects of cocoa and chocolate related to the fat and sugar content that make limited intake desirable. More than half the fat content of chocolate and cocoa is saturated fat, so you would want to limit your intake depending on the fat content of the product. Dry cocoa powder has anywhere from 1/2 to 1/4 the fat content of chocolate, allowing a greater consumption. Sugar is often added to both chocolate and cocoa, but there is a minimal amount in the unsweetened varieties. The caloric density of chocolate is quite high also. There can be 600 calories in three and a half ounces of chocolate that has a high percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Unsweetened cocoa powder will have only about 220 calories in the same amount of powder, because of its lower fat and sugar content.
One of the great health effects of cocoa and chocolate is the antioxidant effect. The cocoa bean is rich in flavonols, polyphenols, and procyanids. Dutching reduces the flavonol content somewhat. But even after Dutching, the cocoa remains one of the high antioxidant foods, retaining a high amount of flavonols, as well as other antioxidants.
Four tablespoons of unsweetened Dutched cocoa powder added to a smoothie will add over 500 mg of potassium. It will add only 25 calories, less than 3 grams of total fat (1.5 grams saturated), 4 grams of protein, and less than 0.5 grams of sugar. If the smoothie is also made with bananas, milk, ice cream, ice milk or frozen yogurt you will have one of the true high potassium foods, getting 1/4 or more of the daily recommended amount of potassium. It’s a great way to start the day, and quick to make, too.