It is said that nine out of ten people like chocolate (and the other one lies)! So the new research on chocolate and health is good news for everyone. Special compounds found in the cocoa plant, called flavonoids have real health benefits and chocolate may even help prevent heart disease. But with most things that sound too good to be true, there is a flipside to the chocolate story. We give you the good news first.
The Good News
There are, in fact, many new studies on the health benefits of chocolate and more and more keep popping up. One recent study carried out at the University of Barcelona, Spain and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that a supplement of flavonoids rich chocolate helped reduce biochemical markers of arterial hardening and may boost heart health. 42 participants at high risk for coronary artery disease were randomised to consume either skim milk, or skim milk plus cocoa powder containing 495mg of the flavonoid polyphenols.
The Bad News
So while cocoa may have some real health benefits, most of the commercially made chocolates that we consume contain very little cocoa and a lot of other unwanted ingredients that can cancel out the positive effects, like butter fat, caramel, wafer and mounds and mound of sugar. Health benefits aside, cocoa is calorie and fat dense, so too much will cause weight gain and can contribute to heart disease. What’s more, chocolate is addictive. Chocolate does contain some caffeine but it’s not much (about 30mg per bar). Its main psychoactive component is a caffeine-like substance called theobromine (Theobroma means food of the gods). Besides theobromine chocolate contains other psychoactive compounds such as phenylethylamine and cannabinoid-like fatty acids that could all contribute to its addictive potential.
Chocolate consumption rules:
• As with any stimulant, chocolate should not be eaten every day, but rather kept as a special treat
• Be careful not to devour chocolate, but rather savour its taste and texture by sucking it in your mouth
• Do not eat excess chocolate if you are overweight
• Do not eat excess chocolate if you suffer from kidney stones (chocolate is high in oxalates, which contributes to the formation of stones)
• Do not eat chocolate if you suffer from migraine headaches, as it may worsen symptoms
• Beware of adulterated chocolate. Milk solids, caramel, wafers and the like are often added to chocolates for taste and appeal but take away from the health benefits
• Eat dark chocolate. Any significant benefits that come from eating chocolate are obtained from eating the dark type. Milk chocolate will provide some benefits but is usually laden with sugar and excess saturated fat and has a lower cocoa content than the darker varieties.