Dark Chocolate and Our Health

Dark ChocolateDark Chocolate Confusion and Clarification

The other day I was perusing the internet and came across a link to this blog post.  The author really takes a hard line that chocolate, even dark chocolate, is quite bad for you.  I am not sure what her previous negative experience with chocolate is, but I do very much feel that she has a predisposed idea that chocolate is absolutely not good for you, and even compares it to alcohol and other recreational drugs.  Is this silly? You can be the judge.

While I am writing this post, it is not meant to be an attack or argument specifically directed at the above mentioned post, it just got me thinking about the topic and the fact that there is probably a good deal of confusion out there about chocolate; so, as always, I did my research.

Now before you read on, I will come out a say from the start that I have a predisposed belief that certain types of chocolate, in reasonable quantities, can be very beneficial for us, minus anyone with an allergy or food sensitivity to it (apparently it is rare though).  That being said, I have put together my thoughts on chocolate, which is basically supported by a vast array of research anyway.

Stop! (for those that clicked on the link…Man, that video brings me back in time).  Before we proceed let’s use some common sense and think about what type of chocolate could even be considered healthy.  No, we are definitely not talking about chocolate filled with sugar and fake chemical ingredients, like milk chocolate, white chocolate, or conventional chocolate bars (think Mr. Big, Crunchy, Mars, etc), we are speaking specifically about dark (70% cocoa or higher) chocolate that contains all natural ingredients, preferably excluding soy lecithin (because I don’t eat soy anything).  In actuality, we could probably specifically argue that almost all of the possible side effects of chocolate can be pinned on the “other” ingredients contained in the crap that people consider chocolate.  “Chocolate is addictive” you say? Ya, of course it is when it’s filled with butt loads of sugar and chemicals.  Guess what else is addictive? Candy, baked goods, breads, soda, Gatorade, and anything else that is full of sugar and food toxins.  Sorry, I digress from my rant.  Onward!

Is Dark Chocolate Really Bad for Me?

In looking through some of the recent literature on dark chocolate I can’t seem to find any information regarding negative health consequences of dark chocolate consumption.  All of the articles out there appear only to point at positive benefits of dark chocolate consumption on all areas of health including heart disease, diabetes, neurodegeneration, mood, obesity, skin problems, and immune function (1).  Not to mention how great eating a nice piece of dark chocolate feels, maybe even with a little glass of red wine or aged full fat cheese. Yum.  Now, you might say that the above noted reference is just one single review article outlining the benefits of cocoa consumption; but trust me, do a small search on your own and you will find many more.

The only negative statements researchers tend to make about chocolate consumption is that it is high calorie, and high in saturated fat.  But hold your horses people, we know that if we eat a real food paleo’ish diet, we don’t need to worry ourselves too much about calories, and we most definitely do not need to concern ourselves with saturated fat consumption since we all know it is healthy for us!

The Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Maybe you don’t believe me based solely on me citing one review article so I decided to provide some more evidence for the benefits of dark chocolate.  Although this study (2) was done on rats, it found a reduction in the risk of colon cancer for rats that ingested dark chocolate.  Interestingly, the identified mechanism for this result was believed to be a reduction in inflammation by down regulating certain gene activities.  Great segue, since another study (3) found that dark chocolate consumption, in humans this time, lead to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease via beneficial effects on HDL cholesterol, lipoprotein ratio, and… a reduction in inflammatory markers.  Inflammation anyone? Yet another study was able to indicate that dark chocolate consumption reduces the susceptibility of polyunsaturated fatty acids, in our blood, to oxidative damage (4); thus, reducing inflammation.  One more time 🙂 this study (5) showed a link between chocolate consumption and reduced markers of oxidized lipoproteins; yet again, indicating reduced inflammation.

Other studies have shown positive effects of dark chocolate consumption on artery (6) and kidney (7) function.  In fact, consumption of dark chocolate may even benefit our gut microbiome and increase our ability to properly digest certain foods (8).

Beware Non Dark Chocolate and Low Quality Brands

I know I mentioned this above; however, I think its worth mentioning again, that reasonable chocolate consumption is likely only beneficial when we are ingesting high quality dark chocolate products.  Products that have minimal sugar and very minimal ingredients.  To support this point of view, this study (9) actually showed negative health effects in a low antioxidant chocolate placebo group compared to improved health markers in a high antioxidant, dark chocolate experimental group.

Dark Chocolate and Aflatoxin

So when reading the above noted blog post, the only thing mentioned that actually concerned me was the possible aflatoxin content of chocolate.  I had never heard of this before, so I was intrigued to find out more information on this.  Unfortunately, it was difficult to find a great deal on this; however, I did find one article (10) that provided some useful information.  What was found was that although the fungal bacteria that produce aflatoxin was found during the drying and storage process of cocoa beans, this was not associated with high levels of aflatoxin in the actual cocoa sample.  The authors suggest that the very low levels of aflatoxin in the cocoa samples, even in the presence of the bacteria known to create aflatoxin, indicates some aflatoxin resistant mechanism, or limiting factor, in the cocoa beans themselves.  So, personally I feel safe that with the consumption of a high quality chocolate product I do not have to worry about aflatoxins.

Dark Chocolate is Healthy

At the end of the day, I can honestly say that high quality dark chocolate consumption is very likely only going to lead to improved health markers, given that it is eaten is reasonable amounts.  By no means could we say that eating 2 dark chocolate bars per day is all that great for you.  All in all, I am pretty confident that the above information really paints dark chocolate in a very beneficial light.  Personally, I will continue eating my daily fill of dark chocolate and I will leave you to decide on you own what is best for you.

Sincerely,

The Barefoot Golfer

References:

1.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21470061

2.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Effects+of+dark+chocolate+on+azoxymethane-induced+colonic+aberrant+crypt+foci.

3.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Effects+of+dark+chocolate+in+a+population+of+Normal+Weight+Obese+women%3A+a+pilot+study.

4.)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=NMR+protocol+for+determination+of+oxidation+susceptibility+of+serum+lipids+and+application+of+the+protocol+to+a+chocolate+study

5.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Effect+of+consumption+of+dark+chocolate+on+oxidative+stress+in+lipoproteins+and+platelets+in+women+and+in+men.

6.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Consumption+of+high-polyphenol+dark+chocolate+improves+endothelial+function+in+individuals+with+stage+1+hypertension+and+excess+body+weight.

7.)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Effect+of+dark+chocolate+on+renal+tissue+oxygenation+as+measured+by+BOLD-MRI+in+healthy+volunteers.

8.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Specific+dietary+preferences+are+linked+to+differing+gut+microbial+metabolic+activity+in+response+to+dark+chocolate+intake.

9.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Differential+effect+of+polyphenol-rich+dark+chocolate+on+biomarkers+of+glucose+metabolism+and+cardiovascular+risk+factors+in+healthy%2C+overweight+and+obese+subjects%3A+a+randomized+clinical+trial.

10.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Aflatoxigenic+fungi+and+aflatoxin+in+cocoa.

 

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