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Chocolate & Health

Chocolate & Cocoa: 'Healthy' Benefits or Negative Health Effects?

Researchers have some news for chocolate lovers: it may be good for you. Scientists reported preliminary evidence recently that cocoa and other chocolates may keep high blood pressure down, your blood flowing and your heart healthy.

Stories on the health benefits of consuming cocoa products have increasingly made the news following the discovery that they are an excellent source of catechins, which are polyphenols of the flavanol group and which are believed to protect against heart disease, cancer, and various other medical conditions. Chocolate manufacturers and retailers have been taking advantage of these findings by not only trying to make chocolate lovers feel less guilty about their addiction, but also by trying to target the more health-conscious consumer with regular doses of "research studies" praising the supposed benefits of consuming chocolate, among them that:

  • Eating chocolate releases endorphins in the brain, which act as pain-relievers,
  • Eating chocolate boosts one's appetite, but does not cause weight gain,
  • The sugar in chocolate may reduce stress and have a calming and pain relieving effect,
  • Eating chocolate does not give someone acne or other skin eruptions,
  • Eating chocolate does not trigger migraine headaches,
  • Eating moderate amounts of chocolate makes one live almost a year longer,
  • Eating chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Overview of the main health effects attributed to chocolate.

While chocolate is regularly eaten for pleasure, there are potential beneficial health effects of eating chocolate. Cocoa or dark chocolate benefits the circulatory system. Other beneficial effects suggested include anticancer, brain stimulator, cough preventor and antidiarrhoeal effects. An aphrodisiac effect is yet unproven.

On the other hand, the unconstrained consumption large quantities of any energy-rich food such as chocolate is thought to increase the risk of obesity without a corresponding increase in activity. Raw chocolate is high in cocoa butter, a fat which is removed during chocolate refining, then added back in varying proportions during the manufacturing process. Manufacturers may add other fats, sugars, and milk as well, all of which increase the caloric content of chocolate.

There is concern of mild lead poisoning for some types of chocolate. Chocolate is toxic to many animals because of insufficient capacity to metabolize theobromine.