Chocolate can be such a rich decadent treat and is touted as a health food. Many ads and articles tout the health benefits of chocolate but is it really what it is cracked up to be? While there are a lot of health benefits of chocolate, there may also be harm. Here is what to look for so you can indulge safely.
The Health Benefits of Chocolate
Cocoa has a lot of flavanols that are anti-oxidant and may improve blood flow, memory, and wrinkles while also lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. The “dose” of flavanols needed to receive the health benefits of chocolate are 200-900 mg per day. Dark chocolate has more flavanols than milk chocolate and the health benefits are dependent on the flavanol content.
Milk chocolate has milk and sugar, which may negate the lipid and blood sugar lowering effects, as well as many of the other benefits because they cause inflammation. Look for the percent cocoa on the label because that tells you how much cocoa and cocoa butter is in it. The rest is sugar. This is not an indication of how many flavanols you are getting. Even dark chocolate may have some milk in it so beware if you have a milk allergy.
Calories and Contaminants May Outweigh Benefits
Depending on the chocolate you choose, you may get more calories or contaminants that outweigh the health benefits of chocolate.
- Cadmium is carcinogenic and can have a negative impact on the heart, kidneys, eyes and brain as well as contributing to osteoporosis. It is dispersed in the air, soil, and water by smelting and mining as well as other industrial uses. Once released into the environment it easily moves through the soil and is incorporated into plants.
- Lead is also carcinogenic and has a profound effect on the brain and nervous system, especially in children. It is found in all parts of the environment – air, water, and soil. Although it is part of the earth’s crust, much of it comes from mining, burning fossil fuels and manufacturing. Only a few chocolate products had lead in them.
Getting adequate amounts of minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc can reduce your absorption of cadmium and lead. Alpha lipoic acid also helps your body remove cadmium. Cocoa butter adds taste and texture as well as calories so supplements will have the least calories followed by powders then chocolate bars. Check the label for calories content.
Highest to Lowest Flavanol Concentration.
ConsumerLab, a watchdog organization, tested different chocolates and ranked them according to flavanol content and contamination. Here is what they found:
- CocoaVia was the only powder that met the California standard for having the least amount of contaminants. It has only 25 calories and 375 mg of cocoa flavanols – one of the highest concentrations, but it does contain maltodextrin and is made in a facility that processes wheat, egg, soy, and dairy.
- Navitas Naturals Cacao Nibs have 20 calories per teaspoon and is packaged in a facility that also handles tree nuts and coconut however it does exceed the limit of 0.3mcg/g of cadmium.
- Chocolate bars were ranked by flavanol content. Bakers Chocolate had the highest amount of flavanols thereby imparting the most health benefits of chocolate followed by Ghirardelli 100% Unsweetened cocoa, then Endangered Species Chocolate Natural, Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Twilight and Lindt Excellence 90% cocoa. They had flavanols between 8-15 mg/gram of flavanols with a serving size of about 40 grams or 1 ounce.
- None of these products had lead in them and did not exceed the California limit of cadmium so you can get the health benefits of chocolate without the harm.
Check your chocolate on the websites www.AsYouSow.org/chocolate to get ratings of lead and cadmium levels or subscribe to http://www.ConsumerLab.com a watchdog organization that tests supplements and products.
You can get the health benefits of chocolate and avoid the harm!
- Indulge safely by limiting chocolate to one serving a day,
- Check the labels since many chocolate bars are more than 1 serving.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and take a supplement with minerals in them
- Take 300 mg of Alpha lipoic acid.
- Get a consult from a functional medicine physician on how to eat, drink and be healthy in today’s contaminated environment.
Enjoy the flavor and texture of chocolate. It has a chemical in it, phenylethylamine, that makes you feel like you are in love! It also aids in the release the pleasure-producing chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Too much negates these effects so indulge in moderation to get the health benefits of chocolate without the harm.
Lorraine Maita, MD is an award winning physician, speaker, and author of “Vibrance for Life: How to Live Younger and Healthier.” She can make you slim, sharp, sexy and supercharged. She is an expert in anti-aging medicine, bioidentical hormone replacement, weight loss, medical nutrition, supplements, and executive health. Dr. Maita was the medical director for 3 Fortune 100 companies and has a private practice specializing in Functional, Integrative, Personalized and Anti-Aging Medicine in Summit and Basking Ridge, NJ. She educates virtually at www.vibranceforlife.com. She is also an advisory team member for Change Your Attitude, Change Your Life on WOR radio, the #1 talk radio station in the NY Metropolitan area. Reach out today to schedule your consultation!