Chocolate has been touted for its health benefits in popular media the last few years. For some this meant that eating large quantities of chocolate was in fact good for overall health and wellbeing, but it turns out this may not be the case.
Health Benefits: Fact or Fiction?
Studies exist suggesting that chocolate, especially the dark variety, may lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, decrease risk of cardiovascular disorders and decrease inflammation.
The high flavonol (antioxidants) content of cocoa is said to be responsible for these health benefits. Unfortunately a great deal of chocolate and cocoa products are Dutched process, whereby the bean is treated with an alkalinizing agent that makes the cocoa less bitter, more soluble, and gives it a smoother taste. This process also significantly lowers the flavonol content, decreasing the potential health benefits. Although the vast majority of chocolate available at the grocery stores is the low flavonol variety, non-Dutched process cocoa and chocolate are both widely available.
Chocolate also contains a good amount of magnesium, 146 mg in a 100 gram bar (which is equivalent to an entire large Lindt chocolate bar) that contains 45-59% cacao solids. To put this into perspective, ¼ cup of dried pumpkin seeds have an impressive magnesium content of 191 mg and raw almonds have 193 mg of magnesium in ½ cup. Therefore about two handfuls of pumpkin seeds contains more magnesium than an entire large 100g Lindt dark chocolate bar.
So although chocolate may not be a “super food”, a few pieces of non-Dutched process chocolate once in a while may not hurt, especially if you consider it as an alternative to sugar-loaded alkali-processed milk chocolate.
Cocoa Politics: Choosing Your Cocoa
Unfortunately, the cocoa market makes it extremely difficult for farmers to earn a living and often producers are unable to cover the cost of production. An increase in child and slave labour in cocoa has been reported, especially in Western African countries like Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which supplies more than 70% of the world’s cocoa. Spending a little more on fair trade chocolate could make a world of a difference for others.
For more information on the cocoa trade see:
PLEASE NOTE: ALL MATERIAL AND INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS POST IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT MEAN TO REPLACE OR AUGMENT ANY ADVICE OR CONSULTATION PROVIDED BY A LICENSED HEALTH CARE PRACTITIONER OR PHYSICIAN.
Basic Report: 19902, Chocolate, dark, 45-59% cacao solids (n.d.). National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6451?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=35&offset=&sort=&qlookup=19902
Buitrago-Lopez, A., Sanderson, J., Johnson, L., Warnakula, S., Wood, A., Di Angelantonio E., & Fanco, O. (2011). Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. The BMJ, 343I. PMID: 21875885
Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry (n.d.). Food Empowerment Project. http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/
Cocoa (n.d.). Fairtrade Canada. http://web.fairtrade.ca/en/products/cocoa
Grassi, D., Lippi, C., Necozione, S., Desideri, G., & Ferri, C. (2005). Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in health persons. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81(3), 611-614. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/3/611.short
Higginbotham, E., & Taub, P. (2015). Cardiovascular Benefits of Dark Chocolate? Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine, 17(12), 54. PMID: 26456559.
Ried, K., Sullivan, T., Fakler, P., Frank, O., & Socks, N. (2012). Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Cocharane Database of Systemic Reviews, 8. PMID: 22895979.
Press Release: Cocoa Extract May Counter Specific Mechanisms of Alzheimer’s Disease (June 23, 2014). Mount Sinai Hospital. https://www.mountsinai.org/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/cocoa-extract-may-counter-specific-mechanisms-of-alzheimers-disease