Chocolate: Can something this good be healthy?

. . . yes, but in moderation.

Chocolate is not only delicious – it is an aphrodisiac that contains some powerful mood-enhancing substances. For example, phenylethylamine or PEA is a naturally occurring amphetamine that causes euphoria and is released in your brain when you’re in love.

Coincidentally, scientific studies have found chocolate is good for the heart. Polyphenols in chocolate dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure. They also have an anti-clotting, blood thinning effect. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is extremely high in antioxidants, and has been shown to reduce LDL oxidation (the primary cause of atherosclerosis). These same polyphenols and antioxidants benefit many other body systems as well.

Wow! Let’s dive right into that box of chocolates!

Not so fast. Most health benefits have been found in dark chocolate. But unsweetened dark chocolate isn’t very appealing, and there are potential problems with all sweeteners.

Anyone who’s read any of my books knows that refined sugar is a deadly metabolic poison, and that most sugar substitutes are little better if not worse. But what about unrefined sweeteners like honey? What about stevia and agave, or the sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol? While all of these are better choices, there are potential problems with all sweeteners.

Spikes in blood sugar stimulate the production of too much insulin. Too much insulin not only packs on the pounds, it encourages excess estrogen production, increases the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart attacks, and is a major cause of aging. Even unrefined sugars cause blood sugar to spike. Stevia, agave and the sugar alcohols are touted for their ability to avoid dramatic spikes because they’re lower in calories and also enter the bloodstream more slowly; but recent research indicates that the body may react to these sweeteners in the same way it reacts to refined sugar! The more refined sugar and other sweeteners you consume, the more this is likely to happen.

Moderation is the key. There’s no harm in having a little chocolate sweetened with stevia, for example, on occasion. Choose dark chocolate (white and milk chocolates have few health benefits and more down-side), and be sure it’s organic. A “Fair Trade” label assures you that no child slavery or exploitation of poor farmers or the environment was involved in its production.

But despite its healthy properties, chocolate isn’t a health food that should be included in your daily diet. You can get your polyphenols and antioxidants from green tea, (or even more of them from white tea) and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Chocolate is a treat food, to be savored once in a while!

Taubert D. Effects of low habitual cocoa intake on blood pressure and bioactive nitric oxide: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2007;298:49-60.

Innes AJ. Dark chocolate inhibits platelet aggregation in healthy volunteers. Platelets. August 2003;14(5):325-327.  

Wan Y. Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. November 2001;74(5):596-602.  

 

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2 thoughts on “Chocolate: Can something this good be healthy?

  1. When processed properly, dark chocolate has more antioxidants than any food known on the planet.  So it really doesn’t matter what the cocoa content is if the beans are not processed property. Commercial processing destroys most of the fragile antioxidants. The only way you can be sure you are getting the health benefits is to choose a chocolate that has been certified for the amount of antioxidants as well as the amount of flavonoids.  Also, choose a chocolate that has no processed sugars (even organic processed sugars!), no bad fats nor caffeine.  There is a great article on the difference between “good” chocolate and “bad” chocolate at cocoa101.com.

  2. Here’s a great way to enjoy chocolate without any sugar. Mix cacao nibs with coconut butter–tastes like Mounds–no sugar, nothing but coconut and cacao. It’s delicious!

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