“Take a piece of chocolate twice a day while symptoms persist.” Isn’t that what you wish you’d hear during visits to the doctor? Well, good news for those of us who have been self-medicating with chocolate all along: There are actually valid reasons to follow this advice while maintaining your healthy lifestyle. Many recent studies have tested and proven the health benefits associated with chocolate consumption. Let’s test your chocolate nutritional knowledge.
True or False:
Dark chocolate contains eight times the antioxidants found in strawberries.
Cacao beans, much like red wine, cranberries, tea and many fruits and vegetables, contain significant quantities of flavonoids, natural compounds most commonly known for their antioxidant capabilities. In fact, a 40g serving of chocolate contains about 400mg of antioxidants – the same amount found in a glass of red wine.1 Furthermore, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, dark chocolate is proven to contain about eight times the amount of antioxidants found in strawberries.2 One study found that the flavonoids in cocoa help thwart blood clots by preventing clogging in the arteries, and also promote vascular health by lowering levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol by as much as 10 percent.3 Answer: True.
True or False:
Chocolate can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Cocoa helps our bodies to process nitric oxide, which is a critical component for blood flow and healthy blood pressure. Dr. Norman Hollenbery, physician and professor at Harvard Medical School, says, “Nitric oxide plays such an important role in the maintenance of healthy blood pressure and, in turn, cardiovascular health.”4 Moreover, 25g of semi-sweet chocolate was shown to have comparable blood flow effects to an 81mg dose of aspirin – reducing the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Daily aspirin or daily chocolate? You choose. Answer: True.
True or False:
All chocolate you consume is healthy.
Unfortunately, some traditional ways of processing chocolate decrease the healthy components in the cocoa. In response to this, companies such as
Mars, Inc., are developing new methods that preserve the naturally occurring flavonoids – look for the Cocoapro® logo on various chocolate products. Another brand, CocoaVia®, has a full line of heart-healthy snacks with a guaranteed 100mg of natural cocoa flavonoids – all clinically proven to reduce LDL cholesterol levels up to eight percent.5 Answer: False.
True or False:
Chocolate gives us energy, lessens anxiety and eases pain.
Chocolate contains components that help our bodies throughout the day. An average chocolate bar has about 30mg of caffeine (compared to about 100mg in coffee), tryptophan (an amino acid that lessens anxiety by producing serotonin), as well as endorphins – our bodies’ natural opiates that reduce pain sensitivity.6 So in summary: Chocolate gives us energy, lessens anxiety and eases pain – whoever said miracle cures don’t exist? Answer: True.
While we’d love to promote a chocolate-only diet, there are some counterpoints to note here. First, we are talking about dark chocolate, which has about 65 percent more cocoa content than milk or white. Also, the above mentioned studies used no more than 100g (about 3.5oz) of dark chocolate per day. The fat and calories in chocolate are another obvious concern, so try to cut out other sweets and snacks to balance your diet. Last, try to look for dark chocolate paired with dried fruits or nuts rather than caramel or nougat, which only adds sugar and fat – thereby negating your healthy attempts.
A final piece of research – researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that those who consume chocolate and other sweets up to three times per month tended to live, on average, one year longer than those who overindulge or those who avoid sweets altogether.7 Balance in life is everything – and lucky for us, balance includes chocolate!
1,4, 6,7 Schmidt, Patty. (2002). Chocolate’s Potential Health Benefits – and Its Effect on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients. Retrieved August 17, 2010, from www.prohealth.com/ library/showarticle.cfm?id=3464&t=CFIDS_FM.
2 Tsang, RD, Gloria. (2006). Health Benefits of Chocolate? Retrieved August 17, 2010 fromb www.healthcastle.com/ chocolate-cocoa-benefits.shtml.
3,5 Various Web resources. Retrived August 17, 2010, from cocoavia.com, marsbotanical.com, longevity.about.com/od/ lifelongnutrition/p/chocolate.htm.