Health benefits and risks of chocolate

You do not need to feel so bad about it the next time you eat a piece of chocolate. A variety of health benefits can be correlated with this tasty treat, despite its negative reputation for causing weight gain.

Chocolate is made from the tropical seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. Its earliest use dates back to Mesoamerica’s Olmec civilization.

Chocolate became very common in the wider world after the European discovery of the Americas, and its demand exploded.

Chocolate has become a popular food product that millions cherish each day, thanks to its unique, rich, and sweet taste.

But what impact does it have on our wellbeing ?

Important facts about chocolate

  • Conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and hypertension have long been related to chocolate intake.
  • It is believed that chocolate contains high levels of antioxidants.
  • Some studies have indicated that chocolate could lower levels of cholesterol and prevent a decrease in memory.
  • A significant amount of calories are found in chocolate.
  • Chocolate can be consumed only in moderation by people looking to lose or maintain weight.

Health benefits

Chocolate
Current findings suggest that there could be some health benefits of chocolate.

Because of its high fat and sugar content, chocolate gets a lot of bad press. Acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes have been linked with its use.

It’s not all bad news, though, according to a study of chocolate’s health effects published in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine.

The authors point to the discovery that there are biologically active phenolic compounds in cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate.

This has changed the perceptions of people about chocolate and inspired studies into how it could influence ageing and conditions such as oxidative stress, control of blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

The antioxidant ability of chocolate can have a variety of health advantages. The higher the cocoa content, the more advantages there are, as in dark chocolate. Dark chocolate can contain less fat and sugar as well, but checking the label is essential.

Eating chocolate may have the following benefits:

  • Reducing levels of cholesterol
  • Cognitive deterioration prevention
  • Reducing the risk of heart problems

It is important to remember that single studies have resulted in the potential health benefits referred to below. To confirm that eating chocolate can really enhance the health of people, further research is needed.

Furthermore, chocolate bars do not only contain cocoa. There is a need to consider the advantages and dangers of all other products, such as sugar and fat.

1) Cholesterol

Chocolate consumption may help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, also known as “bad cholesterol,” according to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition.

The scientists decided to see whether chocolate bars with plant sterols (PS) and cocoa flavanols (CF) had any effect on cholesterol levels.

“Regular consumption of PS and CF-containing chocolate bars as part of a low-fat diet can support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure,” the authors concluded.

2) Cognitive function

Drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day, according to Harvard Medical School researchers, may help keep the brain healthy and minimize memory loss in older people.

The researchers discovered that drinking hot chocolate improve blood flow to areas of the brain that needed it.

Farzaneh A. Sorond, the lead author, said:

“As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

A lab experiment published in 2014 suggested that lavado, a cocoa extract, could minimize or prevent damage to nerve pathways present in Alzheimer’s disease patients. This extract may be able to help with symptoms like cognitive decline.

Another research, published in the journal Appetite in 2016, indicates that consuming chocolate at least once a week may improve cognitive function.

3) Cardiovascular disease

Research reported in The BMJ indicates that eating chocolate may help to reduce by one-third the risk of developing heart disease.

The authors concluded, based on their findings, that higher levels of chocolate intake may be associated with a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders.

In order to validate whether eating chocolate is beneficial, they call for more experimental research.

4) Stroke

In a survey involving 44,489 participants, Canadian researchers discovered that people who ate one serving of chocolate were 22% less likely to have a stroke than those who did not. Also, 46 percent less likely to die from a stroke were those who had about two ounces of chocolate a week.

In a 2015 study published in the journal Heart, 25,000 men and women were monitored to see how diet influenced their long-term health.

The results showed that consuming up to 100 grams (g) of chocolate a day could be associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke.

5) Fetal development and growth

According to a study presented at the 2016 Pregnancy Meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Atlanta, GA, eating 30 g (about one ounce) of chocolate every day during pregnancy can support fetal growth and development.

6) Athletic performance

A lady eating chocolate
Chocolate could assist athletes in covering more distance while using less oxygen.

According to research published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a small amount of dark chocolate can help increase oxygen availability during exercise.

“After eating dark chocolate, the riders used less oxygen while riding at a moderate speed and also covered more distance in a two-minute flat-out time trial,” researchers who researched cyclists doing time trials in the UK noticed.

The researchers claim that dark chocolate’s success in this case is that it contains flavonols known as epicatechins, which increase the body’s release of nitric oxide. Beetroot juice has a similar effect.

Light vs. dark chocolate

Manufacturing companies of light, or milk, chocolate, claim that their product is better for health because it contains milk, and milk offers protein and calcium. Dark chocolate proponents point to the product’s higher iron content and antioxidant levels.

How do they equate the nutrients?

In light and dark chocolate, here are some sample amounts of nutrients,

NutrientLight (100 g)Dark (100 g)
Energy531 kcal556 kcal
Protein8.51 g5.54 g
Carbohydrate58 g60.49 g
Fat30.57 g32.4 g
Sugars54 g47.56 g
Iron0.91 mg2.13 mg
Phosphorus206 mg51 mg
Potassium438 mg502 mg
Sodium101 mg6 mg
Calcium251 mg30 mg
Cholesterol24 mg5 mg

The darker the chocolate, the higher the cocoa concentration, and so, potentially, the higher the antioxidant amount in the bar would be.

However, the nutrients in commercially available chocolate bars differ greatly depending on the brand and form. Checking the label is best if you want to be sure of the nutrients.

Unsweetened chocolates and 100% cocoa items are available online and in some grocery stores and natural food stores for purchase.

Risks and precautions

Chocolate can have health advantages, but it may also have certain adverse effects.

Weight gain: Some findings show that intake of chocolate is associated with a lower index of body mass (BMI) and central body fat. Chocolate, on the other hand, can be high in calories due to its sugar and fat content. If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your current weight, you can limit your chocolate intake and read the labels of your favorite items.

Sugar content: Tooth decay can also be caused by the high sugar content of most chocolate products.

Migraine risk: Due to cocoa’s tyramine, histamine, and phenylalanine content, some people can experience an increase in migraines when consuming chocolate regularly. However, the proof is inconsistent.

Bone health: There is some evidence that poor bone structure and osteoporosis may be caused by chocolate. One research found that older women who consumed chocolate every day had lower bone density and intensity, according to the findings reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Heavy metals: Cadmium and lead, which are harmful to the kidneys, bones, and other body tissues, can be found in certain cocoa powders, chocolate bars, and cacao nibs.

Market Lab tested 43 chocolate products in 2017 and found that almost all cocoa powders contained more than 0.3 mcg cadmium per serving, the World Health Organization’s maximum guideline (WHO).

Overall, chocolate consumption has both health benefits and risks. Moderation is important, as it always is.

Sources

  • Allen, R. R., Carson, L., Kwik-Uribe, C., Evans, E. M., & Erdman, J. W.,. (2008, April). Daily consumption of a dark chocolate containing flavanols and added sterol esters affects cardiovascular risk factors in a normotensive population with elevated cholesterol. [Abstract]. Journal of Nutrition. 138(4):725-31
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  • Basic report, 19164, Candies, Special dark chocolate bar. (2018, April)
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  • Basic report: 19093, Candies, Symphony milk chocolate bar. (2018, April)
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  • Buitrago-Lopez, A., Sanderson, J., Johnson, L., Warnakula, S., Wood, A., Di Angelantonio, E., & Franco, O. H. (2011, August 29). Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. The BMJ, 343:d4488
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  • Can chocolate lower your risk of stroke? (2010, February 11)
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  • Crichton, G. E., Elias, M. F., Alkerwi, A. (2016, May 1). Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study [Abstract]. Appetite, 100:126-32
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  • Cuenca-García, M., Ruiz, J., Ortega, F. B., & Castillo, M. J. (2014, February). Association between chocolate consumption and fatness in European adolescents. [Abstract]. Nutrition. 236–239
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  • Kingston University. (2016, April 18). Eating dark chocolate every day could help boost athletic performance, Kingston University research reveals [Press release]
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  • Kwok, C. S., Boekholdt, S. M., Lentjes, M. A. H., Loke, Y. K., Luben, R. N., Yeong, J. K., …Khaw, K.-T. (2015, June 15). Habitual chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men and women [Abstract]. Heart. Retrieved from 
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  • Latif, R. (2013, March). Chocolate/cocoa and human health: a review [Abstract]. The Netherlands Journal of Medicine. 71(2):63-8
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  • New tests reveal whether dark chocolates and cocoas are toxic or healthful [Press release]. (2017, July 19)
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