Is chocolate a health food?

Chocolate is a treat that stimulates the taste buds. What are its other effects on the body and on health?

Chocolate: food with a lot of appeal

In the age where many people are concerned about the quality of nutrition, we often wonder which foods should be avoided, and which are a sign of good health. Is chocolate a guilty pleasure or a healthy supplement? Now, there’s a question that will certainly interest a number of chocolate lovers. 

Did you know that some of the oldest and most renowned chocolate-makers were pharmacists? Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean. It is to this substance that is attributed the known benefits of chocolate. Dark chocolate has a high content of cocoa, and the higher it is (e.g., 70 to 80%), the better its effects on health. In comparison, milk chocolate contains very little cocoa and white chocolate contains none at all.

Certain components of cocoa have known effects of health, for example:

  • Flavonoids (polyphenols), which are powerful antioxidants
  • phenylethylamine
  • caffeine
  • tryptophan
  • theobromine
  • phenylalanine
  • magnesium, iron, phosphor, manganese, zinc, etc.

Here is an overview of the effects of chocolate on health according to certain studies.

 

Effects on the brain

It has been suggested that various substances contained in chocolate could be beneficial to the brain. Could the taste, comforting effect and feeling of enjoyment also play a role? This is quite possible.

In any event, eating chocolate could, for instance:

  • decrease fatigue, stress and anxiety
  • improve mood
  • enhance mental performance (attention, concentration, etc.)

Eating chocolate promotes the secretion of neurotransmitters in the brain that have been dubbed “happiness hormones” (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, etc.).

 

Effects on the heart

Dark chocolate with a high content of cocoa may have positive effects on cardiovascular health. Here are some examples:

  • improved artery function and blood flow
  • reduced levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood
  • increased levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood
  • better blood clotting, and
  • lower blood pressure

 

Other positive effects

Cocoa is partly made of fibre. This generally promotes intestinal transit, preventing constipation. Furthermore, the polyphenols contained in cocoa may strengthen the intestinal mucosa, which acts as a defence for the immune system.

Some studies also suggest that chocolate (with a high content of cocoa and low content of sugar and fat) could help to maintain a healthy weight, but this hypothesis is not strongly supported by scientific data for the moment. Since chocolate is a calorie-dense food, it will be interesting to shed some light on this question in the years to come.

According to preliminary studies, the flavonoids found in chocolate could contribute to the prevention of certain cancers and age-related degenerative diseases.

 

Possible negative effects

It has been suggested that cocoa increases sensitivity to insulin and could therefore reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This being said, people with diabetes should consume it with restraint due to the possible negative effects it could have on blood glucose and weight. Dark chocolate with a high content of cocoa is a better choice. It’s preferable to seek the advice of professionals responsible for monitoring diabetes for additional information.

Individuals who suffer from acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease), or other conditions that affect the oesophagus and stomach, should generally abstain from eating chocolate, which can have an irritating effect on the digestive tract. Additionally, cocoa butter relaxes the sphincter muscle in the upper abdomen, which pushes stomach contents back into the oesophagus.

Eating chocolate can sometimes trigger a migraine or increase its intensity in people who are prone to them.

Contrary to popular belief, the assumption that the consumption of chocolate promotes acne has never been scientifically proven.

Keep in mind that commercially prepared chocolate treats are usually modified (a number of ingredients are added in addition to milk) and that they contain a lot of sugar and fat.

For now, the scientific data justifying the regular consumption of dark chocolate to maintain health is insufficient. Hopefully, the future will provide us with more insight on the matter! It is important to remember that the nutritional elements and antioxidants are found in the cocoa. Many other foods contain large amounts of these substances, such as fruits and vegetables.

Moderate consumption does not seem harmful to health for most people, unless otherwise indicated for medical reasons. Ask the advice of the professional who helps you to stay healthy. One thing is clear; chocolate is good for morale and for the senses, even if it’s just a square or two!

Your pharmacist is always there to provide you with advice if you have any health-related questions.

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Is chocolate a health food?

Chocolate is a treat that stimulates the taste buds. What are its other effects on the body and on health?
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