Chocolate a Health Food …Or Not

Chocolate lovers everywhere rejoiced with the revelation that chocolate is actually good for you. This is wonderful news for Americans, who annually eat on average 11 pounds of chocolate per person. Kids eat chocolate breakfast cereals, muffins and breakfast drinks. Then there’s chocolate health bars and of course candy and desserts, like ice cream, cookies and cakes.

New studies confirm chocolate decreases the risk of stroke, may lower inflammation in the blood, lower cholesterol, contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant, stimulates endorphin production, which gives a feeling of pleasure, improves blood flow and chocolate may have anti-cancer benefits because flavoniods may help reduce cell damage that can spur tumor growth.

Zachary is holding the world’s largest chocolate bar…5 pounds.

Not So Fast
The truth be told, in the chocolate-is-good-for-you campaign most of the studies were funded by…chocolate interest groups (surprise). Although, there have been positive studies of isolated compounds in cocoa. If people were to consume pure cocoa, they might be able to enjoy a few health benefits, including a positive effect on blood pressure and glucose metabolism, however the majority of people eat processed chocolate with less desirable ingredients including added sugar, corn syrup, milk fats, hydrogenated oils, etc. Many times the actual cocoa content may be less than 20 percent. Most don’t consume premium dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa, negating the benefits.

Not all chocolate is created equal. Certain forms of chocolate are better for your health than others, and it comes down to one key component contained in chocolate: flavonoids.  These compounds, which are found in the seeds of cacao plants (from which chocolate is made), are antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect cells against damage.

Chocolate is Bitter
No person with functioning taste buds would eat chocolate without added sweeteners. Flavonoids are bitter. Most commercial chocolate goes through processing steps that end up removing these compounds. Less processed, or darker chocolates, will tend to have higher levels of flavonoids.

It’s the sugar in chocolate that makes it palatable. But, even too much organic sugar can be a problem. Sugar-free chocolate isn’t the answer either. Artificial sweeteners like, Aspartame, have a long list of complications and children shouldn’t be consuming them.

Even chocolate bars with the highest levels of cocoa solids contain high levels of sugar and could end up doing more harm than good. The tiny health benefit of flavoniods found in cocoa-rich chocolate would be hugely outweighed by the sugar content.

Sugar contributes or is an aggravating factor in many medical conditions, including heart disease, inflammatory conditions, immune system disorders, mood disorders, insulin and blood sugar disorders, leukemia, dental cavities, yeast infections, depletion of essential nutrients, osteoporosis, and obesity. (You’ll notice some of the same diseases listed above as the ones that chocolate “benefits”, sugar aggravates.)

Obviously, the answer is to seldom eat chocolate. When you do, be sure it’s at least 70 percent cocoa. Another solution is to make your own chocolate smoothies, brownies, pudding, hot cocoa, cookies, etc. using organic cocoa. Use as little sugar as possible or natural sugar substitutes like honey, Stevia or use a banana for the sweetener in a smoothie. Stevia has a slightly licorice taste, but when combined with a strong flavor like chocolate, Stevia’s natural flavor is camouflaged.

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