In recent years, the news media has promoted the idea that there are numerous health benefits associated with eating chocolate. While this certainly seems convenient for chocolate lovers, how much truth is there to it? Is chocolate really a super food?
The idea that chocolate can be healthy largely stems from raw cocoa’s high flavonoid content. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to help repair damaged cells, which may reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Keep in mind that not all chocolate is created equal. Due to its lack of processing, raw cocoa and dark chocolate (60% cocoa or greater) have the highest flavonoid content and thus have the potential to provide the most health benefits. On the other hand milk and white chocolate contain very few flavonoids so their positive impact on health is probably limited.
Let’s take a look at some of the alleged health benefits of chocolate and examine whether there is any truth to them.
A recent scientific review found that eating cocoa can result in a small but significant reduction in your blood pressure. By no means should chocolate be your first (or only) line of defense for combating hypertension, but eating small amounts regularly can help you get your blood pressure back to a healthy range.
Prevention of dementia
Eating chocolate has been shown to increase blood flow in the brain. Based on this idea, a research group from Norway examined the role of dietary chocolate on the cognitive ability of seniors. They were able to show that people who ate more chocolate performed better on a range of cognitive tests, suggesting that chocolate may help to prevent dementia. While these early results are encouraging, more evidence is needed before recommendations can be made to the general public.
The claim that chocolate causes weight loss comes from a recent study that linked chocolate consumption with body mass index (BMI). The researchers showed that people who eat the most chocolate tended to have the lowest body weights. Unfortunately, just because eating chocolate and body weight may be correlated, it doesn’t mean one caused the other. More research is still needed to fully understand why this link might exist.
While it may be a little early to label chocolate a “super food”, it does appear to have promise in the treatment and/or prevention of some diseases. Despite these potential benefits, it’s important to remember that chocolate is also high in fat, sugar and calories. For maximal benefit with the smallest downside limit your chocolate intake to 1-2 small pieces, 3-4 times per week and choose dark chocolate whenever possible.