Chocolate can be Good for You?

Samar Aryani's picture

Chocolate.  A food known and loved by all.  Could it be true that our parent’s are wrong and that chocolate really is good for you? After researching this question I believe the answer is yes; chocolate can be beneficial to a person’s health.  This is not to say that people should substitute their vegetables, fruit, and vitamins, each day with chocolate, but within moderation, it has been proven beneficial in various aspects of people’s health.  Dating back to about 500 years ago chocolate was used by healers to treat many illnesses such as anemia and tuberculosis (4). The mainstream idea floating around that chocolate is just a confectionery is slowly being proven wrong.  Recent studies are showing that dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder can be beneficial to people’s heart, blood flow, cholesterol, and much more.

            One of the main health benefits of dark chocolate and cocoa that has been researched is the idea that it can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Research has shown that flavanoids in cocoa, called flavonols, are an essential property that is beneficial in lowering the risk of heart disease (5).  As one study found, “flavonols in cocoa prevent fat-like substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and clogging the arteries, and make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause clots” (5).  The flavonols in cocoa help a great deal in lowering the possibility of blood clots, ultimately lowering the risk of heart disease (5).  The amount of flavanoids in the chocolate greatly depends on the way it is processed, because through the manufacturing of the product, a great deal of the flavanoids are lost (1).  Therefore, it is essential to note that the more pure the cocoa the more beneficial it is. This idea that dark chocolate helps in the prevention of cardiovascular disease is seen by another study done which showed that blood vessels expanded only after two hours of consuming it.  This allows for the blood to pass more smoothly through the body and is also the sign of a cardiovascular system that is healthy (6).   This is not true in the case of milk chocolate or white chocolate because the amount of flavonoids are much less than that of dark chocolate, thus making their effects less beneficial (1).

            As I furthered my research on how chocolate and cocoa can help with blood flow, it became evident that the flavonols within the two play a very crucial part.  In one study, it was proven that a flavanol-filled cocoa drink that contained twenty-five grams of semi-sweet chocolate is equivalent to a eighty-one milligram aspirin dose (5).  This is quite interesting because the similarity between aspirin and cocoa is in their ability to keep blood platelets from clotting or attaching themselves to each other (5).  This as well relates in connection to the idea that chocolate can help in preventing heart disease.  The only difference that exists between chocolate and aspirin is that the effects of aspirin last longer than that of dark chocolates (5).

            I also found that dark chocolate and cocoa as well can help in the lowering of LDL (bad cholesterol) and the raising of HDL (good cholesterol) (4).  Various studies have proven this result but one study in particular conducted by Penn State helped to illustrate this point.  Twenty-three men and women were given a certain diet and had to adhere to it for two weeks (4).  One group ate an ‘average American diet,’ meaning that the foods were low in flavanoids and the other group was given a diet that had about twenty-two grams of cocoa powder and sixteen grams of dark chocolate (4). At the end of the two weeks, the groups switched their diets and adhered to the new diet for two more weeks (4).  The results are as follows: the oxidation of those who had the chocolate diet was approximately eight percent slower than those who had the ‘average American diet’ (4).  It was also shown that HDL cholesterol increased by four percent after people took the diet containing the chocolate (4).  This experiment and those similar to this are very crucial because they show that chocolate and cocoa are a good source of antioxidants and the consumption of them can help in lowering one’s LDL and raising one’s HDL.  It is even being said that dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain more powerful antioxidants then foods like blueberries and prunes (5).  An important aspect to note is that none of the studies I saw called for an extreme intake of chocolate and cocoa; almost all of them stated that in moderation the effects can be beneficial. 

            As can be seen, dark chocolate and cocoa have a number of properties that can be beneficial to people’s health, but one aspect of the argument that is crucial to understand is the process in which the chocolate is made.  It needs to be noted that throughout my research I became aware of the idea that the beneficial effects of the substance are lessened because the way the chocolate is produced lessens the number of flavanoids.  As one study states, “current confectionery manufacturing processes (i.e. fermentation, drying…) destroy considerable amounts of flavanoids, so most cocoa mixes and chocolate products sold on the market today contain little or no flavanoids” (1).  For instance, in reference to being beneficial to the heart, the positive effects would be lessened because of the lower number of flavanoids (6).  A great number of the research I saw supported this same statement.   A few articles went further to describe efforts made by one chocolate producing company called Mars, and the efforts made by them to better process their chocolate products.  The company now puts “CocoaPro” labels on their products to show that those bars of chocolate contain most of the original flavanoids from the cocoa beans (5).  This is crucial because it shows that the research done in the field of chocolate and its health benefits are starting to influence the ways in which the products are made, thus making them more beneficial to the people who are consuming them. 

            So, why should we consider these studies important or even legitimate when most of them are funded by chocolate producing companies?  The answer to this question is that it is because of the funding that research in this field even began and new discoveries have arisen (4). Because of the funding that has started the research, new ideas are being explored in this field.  One idea that has been researched a great deal is that chocolate “gives you an energy lift, less anxiety, [and] and reduction in pain” (5).  This is said to be the result of the bioactive compounds in the chocolate (5).  As a product of more studies on this statement, the idea has been proven correct numerous times.  In addition, I did not find much opposition to the idea that chocolate can be beneficial.  The only articles I did find elaborated on the idea that the sugar and other additives in the chocolate can be physically harmful in the long run. Although, as can be seen, none of the studies described opposed this idea because each study was showing that the more pure the chocolate and the cocoa, the healthier it is. Only time can tell as to what future scientists and nutritionists will discover but at this point in time it is viable to say that dark chocolate is more than just a confectionery. Ultimately, according to the research that has been occurring for many years it has been proven that chocolate can be beneficial to people’s health when it comes to their heart, blood flow, cholesterol, and much more.  So enjoy!

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

1) Ariefdjohan, Merlin W, Dennis A Savaiano. "Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: Is It Too Good To Be True? " Nutrition Reviews Vol.63, No. 12 (2005): 427-30. Research Library. ProQuest. Bryn Mawr College Library, Bryn Mawr, PA. 11 Nov. 2007 <http://www.proquest.com/>

 

2) JAMA and Archives Journals. "Consumption Of Small Amounts Of Dark Chocolate Associated With Reduction In Blood Pressure." ScienceDaily 5 July 2007. 11 November 2007 <http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/07/070703172432.htm>.

 

3) Penn State. "Cocoa And Dark Chocolate Show Positive Effects On Ldls – But Don't Shun Veggies." ScienceDaily 24 October 2001. 11 November 2007 <http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2001/10/011024073452.htm>.

 

4) Raloff, Janet.  “Chocolate Hearts.” Science News Vol. 157, No. 12. (2000): 188-189. <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=00368423%2820000318%29157%3A12%3C188%3ACH%3E2.0.CO%3B2-P>.

 

5) Schmidt, Patti. "Chocolate's Potential Health Benefits-and its Effect on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients ." ProHealth 29-03-2002: 1-3. <http://www.immunesupport.com/library/showarticle.cfm/ID/3464/>.

 

6) The University of California, San Francisco, "Study Sweet for Chocolate Lovers." UCSF Today. 21 11 2002. The Regents of the University of California. <http://pub.ucsf.edu/today/news.php?news_id=200211205>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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