Do you find yourself sneaking a chocolate bar in between meals? Do you love chocolate chips or shavings added to your favorite foods or drinks? Are you in the habit of choosing chocolate pie, cookies, or ice cream for dessert? You are not alone. Some researchers are discovering that a small daily dose of chocolate help us be healthier, happier and more physically fit. Is it true that chocolate can be beneficial to our health? Find out more.
TREAT OR TREATMENT?
It has traditionally been believed that chocolate should be viewed merely as a delicacy, a scrumptious treat. Most would agree that chocolate should be digested with careful consideration and in moderation. However, recent studies have shown that the raw chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, and cacao can be beneficial to our health. We know that milk chocolate is high in fat and sugar, howevcr, and eating too much chocolate can lead to tooth decay. So how can we utilize the emerging beneficial effects of chocolate without experiencing the detrimental side effects? This cacao bean offers great benefits when the cacao is high-quality, raw and organic.
THE HISTORY OF MEDICINAL COCOA
Cocoa and the cacao bean have been used as an effective healing elixir throughout ancient history. Oral history, art, pottery, documents and stone carvings suggest that cacao has been used medicinally by the native people of the Mesoamerica and South America. According to Mayan legend, Xumucane and Ixpiyacoc, are the divine grandparents of Maya mythology of the K’iche’ people. The humans were created by the goddess Xmucane, and Xumucane and the God Sovereign Plumed Serpent gave cacao to the Maya. Cacao is regarded as a plant with divine qualities according to the Mayan and Mexican religious teachings.
Columbus is believed to have discovered cacao when he reached Guanaja and seized a canoe. He thought that the cacao beans were almonds and later discovered that the beans were so highly valued in Mesoamerica that they were traded as currency.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
The precious value of chocolate has continued throughout the ages. People give chocolates as an expression of affection. The ancient belief in benefits of chocolate continues in modern times. Over the years, some of the alleged benefits have included:
- to gain weight
- to stimulate those who are exhausted or feeble
- to improve digestion and elimination
- to stimulate kidneys
- to improve bowel function.
- to reduce or alleviate effects of anemia
- to increase appetite
- to eliminate mental fatigue
- to increase breast milk production
- to aid in the symptoms and discomfort of influenza, tuberculosis fever, gout, kidney stones
- to increase sexual drive
- to protect the skin from sunburn and aging
However, many of these recorded benefits were not necessarily backed by scientific research. Today, scientists are currently conducting research that shows there many be medical benefits of digesting small amounts of raw, organic dark chocolate, particularly in the area of cardiovascular health. The primary benefit of chocolate seems to be due to flavanol found in the cacao bean.
WHAT ARE FLAVANOLS?
Flavanols, have a bitter taste, and are a type of polyphenol, a group of natural compounds which play a protective role for plants. They are believed to play a similar role with human beings as an antioxidant. Direct antioxidants donate electrons to free radicals to prevent damaging effects to the body. Flavanols found in cacao include catechins and tannins. These two flavanols are also found in tea. Catechins are believed to be responsible for the health benefits of green tea.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SHOW?
Fernández-Murga, et al (2011) found after a review of the research on chocolate and cardiovascular disease, that although chocolate is emerging as a possible benefit to those with cardiovascular risk, stress, high blood pressure, and inflammation, there is a lack of “well designed clinical studies” to assure the benefits of prescribing dark chocolate as a treatment for cardiovascular health. They concluded that due to the high caloric content of chocolate, caution should be used.
In a study in 2005, Grassi and others found that dark chocolate decreased blood pressure and serum LDL cholesterol, improved flow-mediated dilation, and improved insulin sensitivity in patients with essential hypertension. They concluded that flavanols from cocoa products may provide some cardiovascular benefit “if included as a part of a healthy diet.”
Studies by Williams et al (2009) and Heinrich et al (2006) showed that flavanol in cocoa could be effective in protecting the skin against harmful UV rays.
Larsson (2014) concluded in a review of current evidence of experimental studies with animals and humans that coffee, tea and cocoa may be effective as a preventative treatment for stroke. He stated that more research is needed but moderate consumption might be “prudent.”
A randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial by Teixeira, et al (2017) showed that dark chocolate consumption for 15 days improved the elastic properties of large arterial elasticity in people living with human immunodeficiency virus.
Much research is showing that chocolate, cacao, cocoa, when digested in moderation, can be beneficial particularly with treatment of cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and UV protection. The flavanol found in the cacao bean, can be an effective antioxidant and promote healing and health. However, chocolate eaten in large quantities, is not considered healthy because of its high sugar and fat content. It might be helpful to consume chocolate, especially raw, dark, organic chocolate, in small or moderate quantities. More research is needed.
Dart, J. 20 Health Benefits of Chocolate. Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, WordPress 2012/12/17/
Fernández-Murga L, Tarín JJ, García-Perez MA, Cano A. The impact of chocolate on cardiovascular health. Maturitas. 2011 Aug;69(4):312-21. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2011.05.011. Epub 2011 Jun 12. Review. PMID: 21665390
Grassi D, Necozione S, Lippi C, Croce G, Valeri L, Pasqualetti P, Desideri G, Blumberg JB, Ferri C. Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension. 2005 Aug;46(2):398-405. Epub 2005 Jul 18. PMID: 16027246
Heinrich U, et al. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. 2006 Jun;136(6):1565-9.
Higginbotham E, Taub PR. Cardiovascular Benefits of Dark Chocolate? Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med. 2015 Dec;17(12):54. doi: 10.1007/s11936-015-0419-5. PMID:26456559
Larsson SC. Coffee, tea, and cocoa and risk of stroke. Stroke. 2014 Jan;45(1):309-14. doi: 10.1161/ STROKEAHA.113.003131. Epub 2013 Dec 10. Review. PMID: 24326448
Latham LS, Hensen ZK, Minor DS. Chocolate–guilty pleasure or healthy supplement? J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2014 Feb;16(2):101-6. Review. PMID: 24734311
Marsh CE, Green DJ, Naylor LH, Guelfi KJ. , Consumption of dark chocolate attenuates subsequent food intake compared with milk and white chocolate in postmenopausal women. Appetite. 2017 May 29. pii: S0195-6663(16)30962-X. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.05.050. PMID: 28572069
McShea A, Ramiro-Puig E, Munro SB, Casadesus G, Castell M, Smith MA. Clinical benefit and preservation of flavonols in dark chocolate manufacturing. Nutr Rev. 2008 Nov;66(11):630-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2008.00114.x. Review. Erratum in: Nutr Rev. 2008 Dec;66(12):734. PMID: 19019025
Radosinska J, Horvathova M, Frimmel K, Muchova J, Vidosovicova M, Vazan R, Bernatova I. Acute dark chocolate ingestion is beneficial for hemodynamics via enhancement of erythrocyte deformability in healthy humans. Nutr Res. 2017 Mar;39:69-75. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2017.03.002. Epub 2017 Mar 7. PMID: 28314639
Steinberg FM, Bearden MM, Keen CL. Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 Feb;103(2):215-23. Review. PMID: 12589329
Teixeira AMNDC, Luzia LA, de Souza SJ, de Almeida Petrilli A, Pontilho PM, de Souza JMP, Segurado AAC, Efraim P, Picone CM, Rondo PHC. The impact of dark chocolate intake on arterial elasticity in individuals with HIV/AIDS undergoing ART: a randomized, double-blind, crossover trial. Food Funct. 2017 May 17. doi: 10.1039/c6fo01681b. PMID: 28513635
Vlachojannis J, Erne P, Zimmermann B, Chrubasik-Hausmann S. The Impact of Cocoa Flavanols on Cardiovascular Health. Phytother Res. 2016 Oct;30(10):1641-1657. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5665. Epub 2016 Jul 1. PMID: 27363823
Williams S, Tamburic S, Lally C. Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2009 Sep;8(3):169-73.
Jean Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University, is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder, and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, a 501(c)3 health education nonprofit organization. All photos used in this article are by www.pixabay.com unless otherwise noted. To find out more about our Health Educators, or to apply as a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance writer or volunteer, visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com
Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.