Is chocolate good for you?

Out of all of the types of chocolates, only dark chocolate has major health benefits. Health benefits of chocolate come from non-fat cocoa solids.

Myupchar October 25, 2019 15:07:49 IST
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Is chocolate good for you?
  • Out of all of the types of chocolates, only dark chocolate has major health benefits

  • According to the US Department of Agriculture, dark chocolate with about 70-80% of cocoa has around 600 calories and 24 grams of sugar

  • Many of us take the word chocoholic lightly; however, according to Harvard Health, an online resource by Harvard University, chocolate addiction may actually be a serious problem

Chocolate can be the perfect pick-me-up, guilty pleasure or bribe. With so many avatars - from candy bars to hot chocolate, brownies, doughnuts, cakes, shakes, truffles and ice-creams - is it any wonder that the global chocolate industry is expected to grow to $161.56 billion by 2024 (from $103.28 billion in 2017)?

In fact, Indian cigarettes-to-hotels conglomerate ITC is so bullish on the prospects of chocolate that it recently launched the world’s most expensive chocolate. Priced at Rs4.3 lakh per kilogram, the chocolate made by ITC-owned Fabelle is now listed in the Guinness World Records.  

Is chocolate good for you

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

But chocolate is much more than just taste, mouthfeel and calories. It has health benefits when consumed in moderation, and it has a peculiar effect on your brain.

Types of chocolate

Chocolate comes from the cacao tree Theobroma cacao, literally "food of gods". It is prepared from the beans inside the fruit pods of the cacao tree. The beans are fermented, roasted and dehusked to separate cocoa butter (the fat part of cacao) and cocoa solids. Depending on the quantity of cocoa, you can get dark chocolate (up to 90% of its total weight is cocoa solids) or milk chocolate (high-fat milk and sugar with less than 10% cocoa solids). White chocolate does not contain cocoa solids. It is made from cocoa butter, milk and sugar.

Health benefits of chocolate

Out of all of the types of chocolates, only dark chocolate has major health benefits. This is because the health benefits of chocolate come from non-fat cocoa solids. Experts say that cocoa beans have more than 300 chemical compounds and yet more form during the process of fermentation that converts it into chocolate. All of these compounds are broken down into three categories - flavonoids, theobromine/caffeine and minerals such as zinc, iron and magnesium.

Flavonoids are natural antioxidants that are responsible for the peculiar bitterness of chocolate. Studies suggest that these compounds reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetic complications. Flavonoids are also associated with a lower risk of hypertension and high cholesterol and they increase the levels of serotonin (also known as the happiness hormone) in the body, eliciting mood changes and improved cognition. However, some researchers argue that the amount of flavonoids present in commercially available dark chocolates is not high enough to impart all of these benefits. 

Similarly, polyphenols and theobromine have shown positive effects on the central nervous system.

Experimental studies indicate that these compounds slow down age-related neurodegeneration.

Chocolate addiction

Many of us take the word chocoholic lightly; however, according to Harvard Health, an online resource by Harvard University, chocolate addiction may actually be a serious problem. Most chocolates contain a high amount of sugar and fat, which perpetuates obesity and metabolic problems. Clinical studies have shown that the brain activity of people who crave chocolate is similar to that of a drug addict.

Previous research has shown that chocolate contains at least three compounds that mimic cannabinoids in our brain. Cannabinoids are compounds obtained from the Cannabis sativa plant, also known as marijuana. Marijuana contains a compound known as THC which binds to certain receptors in the brain and give you a high. Chocolate can either directly bind to these receptors and produce a similar effect or it increases the amount of another substance Anandamide that can bind to THC receptors and make you feel high. Anandamide is a type of fat that is normally found in the brain. However, it is quickly broken down. Chocolate just delays the break down of anandamide. It also contains some amount of anandamide itself.

The reason that it does not cause as much of an effect as THC is that the Anandamide receptors are localised in the brain.

The counterargument to this is that it is hard to establish the extent of these effects since we don’t know how much chocolate enters our bloodstream as we eat it. Also, a person would have to eat a huge amount of chocolate to experience this kind of effect.

Moderation is the key

According to the US Department of Agriculture, dark chocolate with about 70-80% of cocoa has around 600 calories and 24 grams of sugar. Milk chocolate would have the same calories but twice the sugar. The recommended total calorie intake for men and women lies between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day. 

To conclude, health benefits or not, it is best to eat any kind of chocolate in moderation.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please see our section on Nutritious Foods.

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