The People's Perspective on Medicine

Chocolate IS Health Food

Europe has just made it official: There is enough scientific evidence that chocolate can be considered a healthy food. The European Food Safety Authority, the EU’s equivalent of the FDA for food, has determined that the flavanol compounds found in dark chocolate are beneficial for circulation. They keep blood platelets from sticking together to form clots, and they help to control blood pressure as well as maintain blood flow.

The agency’s decision may result in health claims being made on chocolate products, from beverages to candy bars. The request was put forward by Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut, which has funded research on the physiological effects of cocoa flavanols. The manufacturer has developed a special process that protects flavanol compounds so that at least 80 percent of them remain in the finished chocolate.

A recent review of research on cocoa flavanols concluded that the positive effects of these compounds on the lining of blood vessels are likely to reduce cardiovascular risk (Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, online March 7, 2012). German researchers agree. British scientists found in an experiment that dark chocolate containing cocoa flavanols can boost cognitive and visual function (Physiology & Behavior, June 1, 2011). A review by Harvard investigators found that cocoa flavanols probably help to protect against heart disease (Nutrition & Metabolism, Jan. 2006). This is just a tiny sampling of the research that has been published in the last few years alone. Some but not all of the experiments were supported by chocolate manufacturers.

In the past, some nutrition experts have decried enthusiasm about chocolate’s circulatory benefits. They warn that the calories in chocolate candy will undo any good that cocoa compounds might impart. The research supported by Callebaut demonstrates, however, that it doesn’t take very much chocolate to do some good. About 200 mg of cocoa flavanols daily can keep the circulatory system humming. That comes out to about 10 grams (roughly one-third ounce) of high-quality, high-flavanol dark chocolate. That much chocolate will set the gourmet back by around 50 calories.

If that is still too much, or if Callebaut chocolate is not readily available in your local store, consider CocoaVia. The Mars Botanical company, like Callebaut, has invested in research to determine how cocoa flavanols affect blood vessels as well as technology to preserve these compounds during processing. The company’s CocoaVia products include beverage powders providing 250 mg of cocoa flavanols per 30-calorie serving.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I like Chocolate and other sweets. I managed to change my chocolate eating to dark chocolate only. It wasn’t easy but I gave myself the choice Dark Chocolate or No Chocolate. It worked & only 70% Dark Chocolate. I discovered the LINDT brand of Dark Chocolate with Mint works well for me. I can eat only one square & be satisfied. On rare occasions I have 2 squares. I am not tempted further. Lindt other flavors or with fruit & nuts in them really turn me on & I overeat it. I like that it is in squares & can break off a piece.
This works for me. I can have chocolate but only the one that is good for me.
I hope this helps someone.

I eat a lot of chocolate. I am a chocoholic. But I really don’t like the dark variety. So am I to assume that milk chocolate doesn’t provide the same health benefits?
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Milk chocolate contains far fewer cocoa flavanoids and more sugar. As a result, you get too many calories for the benefit you might get. You’d probably need a lot more than 10 g/day to get the same amount of flavonols.

Besides having less sugar, the dark and bittersweet varieties are the best for one’s health. The darker the chocolate, the better! Milk chocolate, on the other hand, isn’t even worth eating.

This is for the person looking for chocolate w/o sugar: It is my understanding that the higher the cacao content (like the 70,80 and 95% ones that are now available) the less sugar. Try looking for dark & bittersweet varieties. I hope this helps.

Wonderful to read some positive study outcomes for chocolate. However, the article did not mention what percentage of cacao is necessary to achieve the beneficial effects.
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: True enough. The dose that has been mentioned is 200 mg cocoa flavanoids per day, but in this country chocolate is not labeled for flavanoid content. Look at the CocoVia products, though, as they do have specific flavanol content.

Does nutella fit into this at all?

That’s great! This means in 15-20 years from now the FDA just might do the same.

I stopped eating chocolate when I stopped eating sugar, and would love to find chocolate sweetened with something else (but not an artificial sweetener). Can anyone point me to a product.?

I knew that.
They could have saved all the research money. Chocolate HAS TO BE good for you… ;)

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