Next time you eat a piece of chocolate, you may not have to feel overly guilty about it.
Despite its bad reputation for causing weight gain, there are a number of health benefits associated with this delicious treat.
Chocolate is made from tropical Theobroma cacao tree seeds. The earliest use of chocolate dates back to the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica.1
After the discovery of the Americas, chocolate became very popular in Europe, and its demand exploded.
Chocolate has since become an incredibly popular food product that millions indulge in everyday for its unique, rich, and sweet taste.
But what effects does eating chocolate have on our health?
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles about the health benefits of popular foods. It provides details on the possible health benefits of chocolate as well as some risks and precautions that you may want to be aware of. Included throughout are links to relevant studies and articles.
The potential health benefits of chocolate
Throughout the years, chocolate has been on the end of a lot of bad press because of its fat content, and its consumption has been associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes. However, “the recent discovery of biologically active phenolic compounds in cocoa has changed this perception and stimulated research on its effects in ageing, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and atherosclerosis. Today, chocolate is lauded for its tremendous antioxidant potential.”2
The potential benefits of eating chocolate may include:
- lowering cholesterol levels
- preventing cognitive decline
- reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems.
It is important to note that the possible health benefits mentioned discuss one-off studies and more evidence is required before the links can be said to be conclusive.
Chocolate may lower cholesterol levels
Chocolate consumption may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
A study published in The Journal of Nutrition was carried out to determine whether chocolate bars containing plant sterols (PS) and cocoa flavanols (CF) have any effect on cholesterol levels.3
The study authors wrote “results indicate that regular consumption of chocolate bars containing PS and CF as part of a low-fat diet may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure.”
Chocolate may help prevent memory decline
Scientists at Harvard Medical School suggest that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may help keep the brain healthy and prevent memory decline in older people. The researchers said that hot chocolate can help preserve blood flow in working areas of the brain.4
The lead author, Farzaneh A. Sorond, 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.”
Chocolate may help reduce heart disease risk
Research published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) has suggested that consuming chocolate could help lower the risk of developing heart disease by one third. The report was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris, France.5
The authors concluded:
“Based on observational evidence, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. Further experimental studies are required to confirm a potentially beneficial effect of chocolate consumption.”
Chocolate and stroke
Canadian scientists carried out a study involving 44,489 people and found that people eating chocolate were 22 per cent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who didn’t. In addition, those who had a stroke but regularly consumed chocolate were 46 percent less likely to die as a result.6
Recent developments on the benefits of chocolate from MNT news
Chocolate could prevent obesity and diabetes, study suggests. Researchers discovered that a certain antioxidant in cocoa – the main ingredient in chocolate – prevented mice from gaining weight and lowered their blood sugar levels. Their study was published in the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry in February 2014.
Could a cocoa extract prevent Alzheimer’s? Researchers found that a cocoa extract – called lavado – may reduce or block damage to nerve pathways found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This means that symptoms of the condition – such as cognitive decline – could be prevented.
Dark chocolate ‘may improve walking ability for PAD patients’. Numerous studies claim that in moderation, dark chocolate is good for our health. Now, a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association adds to the evidence, suggesting that it may help increase walking distance for people with peripheral artery disease.
Chocolate consumption linked to lower stroke and heart disease risk. There is more good news for chocolate lovers – a new study that tracks the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women suggests eating up to 100 g of chocolate each day is linked to lower risks for heart disease and stroke.
Risks and precautions for chocolate
Chocolate has a high calorie count, containing large amounts of sugar. Therefore, if you are trying to slim down or maintain your weight, it may be a good idea to set a limit on your chocolate consumption. The large amount of sugar in most chocolates can also be a cause of tooth decay.
In addition, there is research suggesting that chocolate may cause poor bone structure and osteoporosis.
One study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was carried out to identify the relationship between chocolate consumption and bone density in older women.8
The authors concluded that “older women who consume chocolate daily had lower bone density and strength”.
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