Chocolate & health

Dear Dr. Mo: Are there any health benefits I could possibly get by eating chocolate? I just love it so much.

Dear reader: What a sweet question (and I mean literally).
The answer is YES but let me make one clarification right from the start: when we talk about potential health benefits of chocolate, we always refer to dark chocolate, which has a high cocoa content.

Dark chocolate has health benefits

It is the Flavanols in cocoa beans that have antioxidant effects responsible for most of the benefits that come from dark chocolate consumption. Flavanols reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease and also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. In addition, some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack. Eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate was associated with a lower risk of being hospitalized for heart failure.

Flavanols are thought to also reduce the levels of stress hormone Cortisol and its metabolic effects and they are being researched for their sun protecting abilities, doubling the time before which skin turns red in the sun, marking the beginning of a sun burn.

Cocoa rich chocolate may also slightly reduce cough symptoms but without dulling and sleeping effects of some popular cough medications (i.e. Codein).

I remember my grandmother giving me some dark chocolate whenever I had diarrhea as a child saying “This will close you up” and she was right. I have since read research proving that cocoa flavonoids bind to a protein that regulates fluid secretion in the small intestine, potentially reducing diarrhea symptoms so it would appear that this good old advice had some medical merit.

Another researched benefit of dark chocolates is their apparent ability to temporarily increase blood flow to the brain boosting our performance and concentration – so, the next time you work your brains to the limits, grab some dark chocolate.

Add chocolate to your diet but do so in moderation.

Moderation is key if you want to make chocolate a healthy habit — this means eating less than about 90 grams on one or two days a week.
Eating more than this would likely not lower heart failure risks and other potential benefits would be outweighed by sugar and fat in chocolate adding extra centimeters to your waistline.

Choose dark chocolate with cocoa content of 65% or higher. Milk and white chocolate contain far less cocoa and are hence Flavanols-poor and without much health benefits.

Remember that 90 grams of chocolate could add up to 500 calories so make plans to balance this in your diet, either by eating less of some other food or by planning this in your exercise routine.

So you see, not all ‘sinful’ foods are that bad for you as long as you have good information and practice moderation.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo