Combining Coffee And Cocoa For The Best Antioxidant Benefits

11 min read JAN 23, 2023

Coffee and cocoa are two favorites that top the flavor charts both on their own and when combined.

But, combining these two may do more than please your palate!

Coffee and cocoa are similar in many ways:

- Both are seeds of tropical plants.

- Coffee and cocoa are both typically grown within 20 degrees north or south of the equator.

- Both types of seeds go through a fermentation and roasting stage as they are processed.

- Cocoa and coffee can each vary in flavor profile depending on the area where they are grown.

But, the similarity that we’d like to explore today comes down to their chemical makeup and your health.

Both coffee and cocoa are loaded with antioxidants and flavonoids (which act as antioxidants), meaning both are high powered disease fighters!

In other words, if you want to fight inflammation, disease, and aging, coffee and cocoa have you covered.

So, sit back, pour yourself a cup of coffee, add a dusting (or more) of cocoa, and let’s see how you can benefit from this delicious duo! 

Why Do You Need Antioxidants?

Before we get into the exact benefits, let’s first explore this critical component of both coffee and cocoa, looking at what antioxidants are, and why you desperately need them.

The CDC now estimates that 6 in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, or diabetes.

And, research shows that inflammation not only causes many chronic diseases, but advances them as well.

Antioxidants not only combat inflammation that has already occurred in the body, but they prevent it from happening altogether.


Inflammation occurs when the tissues in your body become injured from bacteria, viruses, exposure to toxins, heat, or a number of other causes.

Once damaged, the cells within those tissues release chemicals which cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissue resulting in swelling, or inflammation.

And, while the intent here is good, when this occurs frequently over long periods of time, it leads to oxidative stress.

Take obesity for instance, a less obvious, but proven, cause of chronic inflammation: In this case, an excess of macronutrients in body tissues prompts the death of some cells as well as the initiation of multiple immune responses, causing inflammation that occurs slowly over a long period of time.

Then, yet another cause of oxidative stress and chronic inflammation is free radical damage.

Every time you are exposed to cigarette smoke, pollution, ultraviolet rays, and other toxins, your body produces free radicals, which can damage your cells.

And, free radicals are also naturally produced as a result of the normal metabolic processes which take place in your body. 

Free radicals are unstable, lacking electrons. So, they rob molecules in your body of electrons, seeking needed stability.

Unfortunately they damage these molecules in this process, which causes oxidative stress, leading to cell damage, cell death, DNA damage, inflammation, aging, and disease.

Now, enter antioxidants, the oxidative stress heroes!

Antioxidants work sacrificially, willingly giving up their electrons to free radicals, thereby neutralizing them and preventing them from causing damage that leads to oxidative stress.

So, reiterating here what we mentioned at the beginning, antioxidants are both preventative and protective: they prevent free radicals from damaging cells, thereby protecting against the inflammation caused by free radicals/oxidative stress and other factors such as infection and injury.

The good news for coffee lovers and cocoa lovers alike?

Both are loaded with antioxidants…loaded as in we’d be here all day, rather all week, if we listed each and every antioxidant these delicious items contain!

So, instead of listing the thousands of antioxidants in each, let’s cut right to the chase, looking at how you can benefit from the antioxidant content of cocoa and coffee? 

Antioxidant Benefits Of Cocoa

There are many forms of cocoa, an item you most likely recognize as a component of chocolate.

Yum, right?

The most pure form of cocoa is raw, organic cacao. This is the unprocessed version of the cacao bean.

The ORAC value of raw organic cacao, a score developed by scientists to measure the antioxidant capacity of a food to fight free radicals, is 98,000 per 100 grams. To give you a comparative picture here, this is 40 times the antioxidant content of blueberries!

Unsweetened cocoa powder, on the other hand, while not as pure as raw cacao, has an ORAC value of 55, 653, which is still much higher than proclaimed superfoods such as goji berries, blueberries, and pomegranates.

On average, natural cocoa powders contain 34 mg of flavanols per gram.

And, while dutch processed cocoa powders (the kinds typically found on grocery store shelves) were once thought to lose the majority of their antioxidant benefit through processing, recent studies have shown both light and medium dutch processed cocoa powders to still contain significant amounts of beneficial antioxidants.

Though you probably won’t be consuming 100 grams of cocoa powder in a setting, raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa, this antioxidant rich food still brings powerful benefits to your health! 

1- Heart Disease Protection

Flavonols are types of flavonoids rich in antioxidants, and cocoa is loaded with them.

Flavonols have been shown to protect your heart by decreasing blood pressure and improving circulation.

Then, the polyphenol content of cocoa powder has been found to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels, both reducing the threat of heart disease.

Additionally, other studies have shown the antioxidant content of cocoa to be associated with an overall reduction in one’s risk for heart disease. 

2- Cancer Prevention

Cancer is thought to be caused by cell damage and changes or damage to your DNA.

Free radicals wreak havoc on both your cells and your DNA, leading to cancer.

Cocoa contains high levels of polyphenols, which are antioxidant compounds. And, these compounds neutralize free radicals, protecting cells against the type of damage that causes cancer.

A 2016 study looked specifically at the effects of antioxidants on ovarian cancer cell lines, examining procyanidins, a compound found in cacao.

The study remarkably found these antioxidant compounds were able to selectively kill cancer cells. And, the procyanidins caused cancer cells to be more sensitive to chemotherapy, offering potential aid in chemoresistance. 

3- Diabetes Management And Prevention

The antioxidant content of cocoa has been shown to both decrease your overall risk of diabetes as well as specifically improve insulin sensitivity.

One study published in Endocrine Abstracts in 2014 found those participants who consumed dark chocolate, cocoa rich in polyphenols, lowered their insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity.

And, another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed that cocoa does reduce insulin resistance. 

4- Boasts Brain Benefits

The antioxidants in cocoa also benefit your brain.

One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found regular consumption of cocoa flavonols to reduce cognitive dysfunction associated with aging.

But, these health boosters also target inflammation in the brain associated with depression, mood disorders, and stress.

Such antioxidants also improve blood flow to the brain, aiding in memory as well as your ability to pay attention and process information. 

Antioxidant Benefits Of Coffee

Coffee is one of the most antioxidant-rich beverages on the planet.

Scientists have identified more than 1,000 antioxidants in unprocessed coffee beans, with hundreds more compounds developing through the roasting process.

As far as rankings are concerned, you may have seen lists where coffee certainly doesn’t top the antioxidant charts, trailing behind many berries and spices, even cocoa which we just explored.

The thing is, you likely aren’t consuming an entire teaspoon of cloves in a setting. Nor are you eating an entire cup of cocoa powder (raw cacao or otherwise) for breakfast.

When looking at a serving to serving comparison, taking into account that most coffee is consumed by the cups (plural) rather than cup (single), that’s what makes this rich source of antioxidants the nation’s, possibly even the world’s, most preferred source of antioxidants.

Ounce to ounce, coffee measures up, with just a 6 ounce cup providing more than 100% of the daily recommended intake of antioxidants for adults.

So, let’s see how those antioxidants, like chlorogenic acid, hydrocinnamic acid, cafestol, and more can improve your health! 

1- Reduced Risk Of Liver Disease

Since your liver metabolizes many of the compounds that produce free radicals, antioxidants work to add that electron to those free radicals, like we referred to above, thereby keeping balance within the liver.

Oxidative stress is largely a culprit in liver disease, and antioxidants repairing this damage play a huge role in both combating existing liver disease and reducing your risk of developing it.

Coffee is also known to reduce the amount of scarring found in the liver due to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. As inflammation is corrected here through antioxidant activity, this makes coffee a valuable liver disease fighter. 

2- Alzheimer’s Prevention

One antioxidant, cafestol, found in both regular and decaffeinated coffee, is known to target inflammation in the brain. And, scientists believe this antioxidant may specifically improve memory.

Both caffeine and the antioxidant capacity of coffee has been found to decrease the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

And, these same antioxidants are said to prevent oxidative stress and cell damage in the brain, adding to the potential for prevention of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive decline. 

3- Improved Heart Health

Individuals with diabetes have a greater risk of developing heart disease, and the antioxidant content of coffee greatly reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.

We’ll discuss that specific benefit in a moment, but the antioxidant content of coffee as it pertains to heart health (namely vitamins C & E, selenium, phytochemicals, and other antioxidant compounds) works to both slow down oxidation and reduce the damage done to the heart by cholesterol.

Antioxidants here protect blood vessels as well, ultimately reducing the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

And, the antioxidants in coffee help to reduce inflammation throughout the body including the heart. Such inflammation can lead to irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and coronary heart disease, making antioxidants a powerful and needed benefit in regards to heart health! 

4- Reduced Risk Of Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, drinking coffee lowers the risk of multiple types of cancer.

Like cocoa, the antioxidant content of coffee works to neutralize free radicals that cause cell damage which leads to cancer.

Polyphenols and antioxidants that reduce inflammation such as cafestol, kahweol, caffeine, and chlorogenic acids are all thought to be direct cancer killers found in coffee.

Specifically speaking, many studies link coffee consumption with a lowered risk of prostate, liver, and endometrial cancer, as well as cancers of the mouth and throat. 

5 - Decreased Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

Studies show coffee drinkers have a 23-50% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with each cup of coffee consumed daily further reducing one’s overall risk by 7%.

Both the caffeine (which contains antioxidants on its own) and polyphenol content of coffee are attributed to this particular disease prevention perk.

Coffee has also been found to lower blood pressure, and it contains healthy, and beneficial, amounts of magnesium, caffeine, and potassium, but experts believe it is the antioxidant content alone that seems to be linked to this decreased risk of diabetes. 

6- Arthritis Help

Due to the mixture of antioxidants and other compounds in coffee, the anti-inflammatory effects of this brew reduces inflammation within the body that causes symptoms of arthritis and other joint pain.

And, the caffeine in coffee, also containing antioxidant compounds as we mentioned earlier, actually works to block receptors in the brain, in turn activating the chemicals responsible for feelings of relaxation and pain relief, another aid for arthritis patients. 

7- Cavity Prevention

One antioxidant in coffee, trigonelline, has antibacterial properties, and studies link this compound with a reduced risk of developing dental cavities.

While typically found in green coffee, this antioxidant is actually found in much higher amounts in roasted coffee, with lighter roasts containing the biggest benefit of this dental health booster. 

Coffee And Cocoa Mixology

If you’d like to incorporate a bit of cocoa in your coffee, combining these antioxidant powerhouses, here are a few things to remember:

Oftentimes people think of cocoa strictly as chocolate, but there is a bit of a distinction here. In other words, just melting a Snickers bar, covered in milk chocolate into your coffee won’t bring you these healthy benefits we’ve discussed today.

In fact, that’s why we’re including this section.

If you want to reap the health benefits of coffee and cocoa, be sure you don’t negate the antioxidant boost with added sugars and unhealthy creamers.

Did you know you can make a healthy, vegan chocolate syrup with only two ingredients? Just ¼ cup real maple syrup and 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder stirred together until combined, and you’re in business!

You can add this simple chocolate syrup to your coffee, iced or freshly brewed, for a tasty mocha treat.

Or, if you want to utilize raw organic cacao for a great antioxidant punch, try adding 1 tablespoon of raw cacao to your freshly brewed coffee along with ½-¾ cup of your choice of plant milk. 

Why plant milk?

Some studies have found dairy to potentially block the absorption of the antioxidants found in cacao, making plant milks such as almond, coconut, cashew, pistachio (and more) better additions to your coffee-cocoa creations.

And, seek to choose natural sweeteners like raw, local honey, real maple syrup, monk fruit, or stevia when looking to get the full antioxidant benefit from your coffee-cocoa combinations.

Check out Lifeboost Coffee Medium Roast .

Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Charles Livingston nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.


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