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11.02.2022 Article

National Chocolate Day: The science behind Chocolate Consumption

By Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu
National Chocolate Day: The science behind Chocolate Consumption
11.02.2022 LISTEN

In 2005, the Ghana Tourism Authority instituted the “National Chocolate Day” to coincide with Valentine's Day, which is celebrated on 14th February annually. What does science say about chocolate consumption?

Nutrition Facts

Available studies (https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/10638/2) indicate that an ounce (28.3grams) of dark chocolate with 70 to 85 percent of cocoa solids has the following nutrient composition:

  • 168 calories
  • 12.8 grams carbohydrates
  • 2.2 grams protein
  • 12 grams fat
  • 3.1 grams fiber
  • 0.5 milligram manganese (27 percent daily value (DV)
  • 0.5 milligram copper (25 percent DV)
  • 3.3 milligrams iron (19 percent DV)
  • 63.8 milligrams magnesium (16 percent DV)
  • 86.2 milligrams phosphorus (9 percent DV)
  • 200 milligrams potassium (6 percent DV)
  • 0.9 miligram zinc (6 percent DV)
  • 2 micrograms vitamin K (3 percent DV)
  • 1.9 micrograms selenium (3 percent DV)
  • 20.4 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)

Empirical Literature on the Benefits of Chocolate Consumption

Aversion of disease-causing free radicals

One study by Magrone et al., (2017) found that dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols. The cocoa, in particular, has actually been shown to have a high content of polyphenols and flavonoids that is even greater than in wine and tea. This means that, the higher the cocoa percentage of the chocolate bar, the more awesome antioxidants one gets to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from damage and disease.

Colon Cancer Risk Reduction

Studies by Hong et al., (2013) found that the flavonoids and antioxidants in chocolate may be especially beneficial against colon cancer. The study which involved one animal model found dark chocolate was able to effectively reduce the growth and spread of colon cancer cells in rats.

Another review by Martin et al., (2016) also found that dark chocolate could potentially help protect against colorectal cancer due to its ability to decrease oxidative stress, reduce inflammation and block the growth of cancer cells.

Enhanced Heart Health

Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate. This was elaborated by the Cleveland Clinic ( https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16774-heart-healthy-benefits-of-chocolate ) as chocolate having a very positive effect on heart health by reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart as well as the brain. Additionally, these flavanols can also help prevent blood platelets from clotting, which could reduce the risk of stroke.

For instance, a study by Shiina et al., (2007) involved participants consume either a daily dose of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate or non-flavonoid white chocolate for two weeks. The study found that flavonoid-rich chocolate intake significantly improved circulation in adults whereas the white chocolate had no positive impact on health.

A follow up study by Kwok et al., (2015) traced the health of over 20,000 people for 11 years and found that higher chocolate intake was associated with a lower risk of heart problems. In fact, among subjects who consumed the most chocolate, 12 percent developed or died of cardiovascular disease during the study compared to 17.4 percent of those who didn’t eat chocolate.

Improved Cholesterol Profile

For those suffering from elevated cholesterol, one study by Hamed et al., (2009) examined the effects of chocolate on 28 healthy subjects and found that just one week of dark chocolate consumption improved lipid profiles, decreased platelet reactivity and reduced inflammation.

A follow up review by Tokede et al., (2011) examined 10 studies and found that consuming flavonol-rich chocolate was effective at reducing levels of total and bad LDL cholesterol, both of which are major risk factors for heart disease.

For Link (2018), the cocoa butter found in chocolate is rich in healthy fats and polyphenols, which are beneficial compounds that act as antioxidants in the body.

Enhanced Cognitive Function

One study by Sorond et al., (2008) found that flavonol-rich dark chocolate could increase blood flow to the brain, which could potentially aid in the treatment of cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.

Another follow up research by Nurk et al., (2009) also agrees that consumption of flavonoid-rich foods; such as chocolate, wine and tea; was linked to better brain function and improved cognitive performance.

Supports Blood Pressure

Several studies show that adding chocolate to your diet can reduce blood pressure levels, which could help protect against conditions like heart disease and stroke.

For example, in one study by Rostami et al., (2015) eating 25 grams of dark chocolate was effective at lowering blood pressure in those with type 2 diabetes and hypertension. The study further found that dark chocolate significantly decreased fasting blood sugar levels, compared to a control group.

Antioxidant-Rich Superfood

One interesting study by Crozier et al., (2011) examined the total flavanol and polyphenol content as well as antioxidant activity content of chocolate and cocoa powder to super fruits like acai, cranberry, blueberry and pomegranate. The study found that the flavanol content of cocoa powder (30.1 milligrams per gram) was significantly greater than all of the other super fruit powders.

Further, the study found that the antioxidant capacity of dark chocolate was greater than all of the super fruit juices, except pomegranate. Plus, the total polyphenol content per serving was also highest for chocolate (about 1,000 milligrams per serving), which was significantly higher than all of the fruit juices except pomegranate juice.

Supports eye health

One interesting human clinical trial by Rabin et al., (2018) found that contrast sensitivity and visual insight of 30 participants improved after consuming dark chocolate versus milk chocolate, meaning that it could potentially help boost vision. However, more studies are needed to evaluate how chocolate and its components could impact vision long term.

Skin Health

It has been established that one of the top dark chocolate benefits for skin is credited to its flavonol content and its ability to protect against sun damage. This is supported by a study by Williams et al., (2009) which demonstrates that eating flavonol-rich chocolate could help avert damage caused by ultraviolet light. An earlier study by Heinrich et al., (2006) also found that regular consumption of chocolate may reduce skin roughness, enhance hydration and improve blood flow to the skin.

Side Effects of Chocolate Consumption

Chocolate has been linked to the following side effects (Price, 2019):

  • acne
  • weight gain
  • bloating
  • headaches
  • gas
  • sleep disturbances
  • mood changes
  • cavities
  • constipation
  • nervousness

Also, for those with pets, make sure they don’t get into your chocolate stash, since chocolate in all forms is poisonous to both cats and dogs. For vegans, always read labels.

Recommended Eating Quantity

Always choose products with at least 70 percent cocoa. For those sensitive to caffeine, note that o ne ounce (about 28.3grams) of chocolate contains about 12 milligrams of caffeine. Though this is less than a cup of coffee or an energy drink. Caffeine overdose side effects can include nervousness, increased urination, sleeplessness and a rapid heartbeat (Price, 2019).

Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder, also sometimes referred to as “cocoa solids,” is an unsweetened chocolate product made from removing cocoa butter from cacao beans. This process leaves behind a somewhat bitter-tasting powder that is rich in fiber , antioxidants and other nutrients. Because the fat from cocoa beans is removed to make cocoa powder, it doesn’t have a creamy texture like regular chocolate does, however, it still has a taste similar to dark chocolate, just not as sweet. Cocoa beans grow on the tropical tree called Theobroma cacao. The seeds of the tree are the source of dark, natural chocolate in its many different forms.

Is cocoa powder healthier than chocolate?

Cocoa and dark chocolate share many of the same benefits, including that they are high in flavanoids which help fight oxidative stress, as well as minerals like manganese and magnesium along with dietary fiber.

There are two main types of cocoa powder: Dutch-processed and natural. The natural cocoa powder (also called untreated cocoa) is more bitter and acidic. It is processed in a way that retains its natural pH level, giving it a more intense flavor and a lighter color. Pure ground cocoa has a pH level between 5.3 and 5.8, meaning it has relatively high acidity. Its acidity affects its flavor , the way it interacts with other ingredients and how soluble/dissolvable it is. This type is also the highest in antioxidants.

Second, the Dutch-processed cocoa powder is made by soaking cocoa beans in an alkaline solution, producing a darker powder with a more mellow flavor due to how this affects the powder’s pH level. The processing method also makes it easier to dissolve the powder in recipes, such as in ice cream and chocolate drinks, but it reduces the antioxidant properties of cocoa.

Take home

From studies, the benefits of dark chocolate are numerous. It is best to always choose chocolates with higher percentage of cocoa. It is also worth to note that, both the powder and the dark chocolate have basically the same health benefits.

The author is an Honorary Professor, Naturopathic Researcher, Theologian, Medical law researcher, Chartered Management Consultant (Canada) and a final semester LLB student. He is also the President of Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT) and the African Naturopathic Foundation. E-mail: [email protected]

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