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The One Ingredient Cardiologists Want You to Add to Your Coffee

Person putting cocoa powder on top of their coffee drink

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Raise your hand if you can’t start your day without a cup of coffee (*raises hand*). For many of us, it’s an absolute must-have when it comes to our morning routine. It’s true that coffee gives a zap of energy when we’re dragging and helps with alertness. It’s also proven to be a heart-healthy morning drink.

In fact, drinking one to two cups of coffee a day is tied to a lower risk of heart disease and heart failure, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.


Experts In This Article

And there’s one special ingredient that can elevate your next cup: cocoa.

Here, a cardiologist and registered dietitian explain the benefits of coffee with cocoa for heart health.

Heart-health benefits of coffee with cocoa

Here are three reasons your heart will thank you for starting your day with a cup of cocoa-powered java.

1. Coffee-drinkers may live longer than non-coffee drinkers

Drinking coffee already feels like you’re gaining superpowers once that caffeine hits, but now there’s even more proof of the perks.

“If you, like me, love a cup of coffee, you will be glad to know that the evidence now supports you,” says Nikki Bart, MD, a heart failure and heart transplant cardiologist at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. Research shows moderate coffee drinking may improve your longevity and heart health.

In fact, in a January 2022 study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, researchers found that up to three cups of coffee per day can lower a person’s risk of dying due to heart disease and stroke.

But Dr. Bart warns, this doesn’t mean you should start chugging coffee all day. “The benefits you experience have a dose-dependent effect, with one to three cups seeming to be the optimum amount in recent studies,” she says. “Any more and you could be doing yourself harm.”

“If you, like me, love a cup of coffee, you will be glad to know that the evidence now supports you,” —Nikki Bart, MD, cardiologist

2. Coffee-drinkers may have lower rates of heart disease and stroke

Your morning or afternoon pick-me-up could be reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart failure, says Colette Micko, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Top Nutrition Coaching.

An older November 2013 review in Circulation supports these claims in a meta-analysis that included more than 35 studies. Researchers found a 15 percent drop in heart disease risk when a person consumed a moderate amount of coffee (between three to five cups per day) compared to someone who didn’t drink coffee at all.

“Coffee intake of six cups or more did not have positive or negative benefits on cardiovascular disease health,” Micko says.

Drinking coffee has also been linked to reducing stroke risk, according to findings in a November 2021 study in PLOS Medicine.  The large, multi-year study had more than 365,000 adult participants track their coffee and tea consumption starting as early as 2006. In a 2020 follow-up, researchers found a 32 percent lower risk of stroke for those who said they drank two to three cups of coffee or two to three cups of tea every day compared with people who drank neither beverage.

3. Cocoa powder may reduce inflammation

Coffee has heart-healthy benefits of its own, but adding in cocoa can upgrade those benefits even more. And some of the perks of coffee and cocoa are similar.

“Like coffee beans, cocoa powder contains flavanols, which have anti-inflammatory effects, relax your blood vessels, and improve blood sugar control,” Dr. Bart says.

To break it down even further, Micko explains that flavanols are chemical compounds found in plants that are part of the antioxidant family called flanavoids. “Flavanols are shown to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow, which can positively impact heart health by relaxing blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure,” she says.

Keep in mind: Cocoa and chocolate aren’t the same thing. Cocoa powder is lower in saturated fat and added sugar (so long as it’s unsweetened).

Tips for making heart-healthy coffee with cocoa

1. Pay attention to serving size

You don’t have to go overboard with the cocoa powder to reap the benefits of adding it to coffee. And because unsweetened cocoa powder can be bitter, a little can go a long way.

Micko recommends adding up to two tablespoons of cocoa powder or raw cacao powder to your daily coffee to receive the maximum heart-health benefit. “If you enjoy the added flavor in your coffee, there are no detriments to adding it into your daily routine,” she says.

2. Skip the extra cream and sugar 

Coffee is a naturally zero-calorie drink, but if you add cream, sugar, and other flavorings, the calories can start to pile up. Dr. Bart says these can have negative effects on heart health if you aren’t careful.

“For example, a grande/venti coffee with cream, sweeteners, and syrups can often have as many calories as a main meal,” she says. What’s more: “Sugar, artificial syrups, and sweeteners are often pro-inflammatory, canceling out the benefits of the coffee itself. For maximal benefits, skip these optional extras.”

Micko adds that other tasty additions can also compromise heart health. “I would avoid adding full-fat dairy, coconut oil, or butter to coffee, all of which have high amounts of saturated fat and can raise heart disease risk.”

If you’re craving more flavor, add spices to your coffee like cinnamon or nutmeg.

3. Go organic when possible 

Look for organic on the label when buying coffee and cocoa powder. “Conventional coffee beans and cacao beans are typically sprayed heavily with pesticides in farming practices,” Micko says.

The more wholesome the ingredients, the better. “Look for cocoa powder that has 4 percent naturally conserved cocoa flavonoids,” Dr. Bart says. “Also, make sure the first ingredient is cocoa and not sugar. And make sure it is unsweetened.”

Make other heart-healthy choices to go with your cocoa-powered coffee

Once you’ve prepared your cup, Dr. Bart says she likes to go on a walk to get some steps in for the day. Or, walk to your local coffee shop and get in some light exercise while grabbing your morning cup of joe.

“I like to walk to my nearest coffee shop as a bit of a ritual,” Dr. Bart says. “My favorite place means I have walked 4,000 steps and had all the benefits of caffeine before even starting my day.”

And as a heart-healthy bonus, you can do this with a friend to add connection and community to your day, Dr. Bart says. Staying socially connected can positively affect heart health, according to the Heart Foundation.

—medically reviewed by Jennifer Gilbert, MD, MPH

Citations
Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Judit Simon, Kenneth Fung, Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, Nay Aung, Mohammed Y Khanji, Márton Kolossváry, Béla Merkely, Patricia B Munroe, Nicholas C Harvey, Stefan K Piechnik, Stefan Neubauer, Steffen E Petersen, Pál Maurovich-Horvat, Light to moderate coffee consumption is associated with lower risk of death: a UK Biobank study, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, Volume 29, Issue 6, April 2022, Pages 982–991, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurjpc/zwac008
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