It's holiday time, and if you love chocolate, you may have heard about how good it is for you. In fact, researchers at a National Academy of Sciences conference recently made chocolate sound like it was the latest newly discovered health food. They cited the flavonoids it contains. These are antioxidants that can help lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and protect the heart.
It's a message that all chocolate lovers want to hear. But is there any truth to these claims? Let's take a look.
The researchers were correct when they said that indigenous cultures have eaten chocolate for many decades and it improved their health. But they failed to point out that the cocoa eaten by the Kuna Indians was not the chocolate we eat. It was unprocessed. When cocoa is processed, it loses much of its beneficial flavonoids. They are removed during the processing, along with its bitter taste.
Nor did the researchers mention that the ancient Central Americans who used chocolate for healing drank an unsweetened cocoa. Our chocolate is sweetened with enough sugar to raise your blood sugar, lower your immunity, feed Candida albicans (vaginal and intestinal yeast), and upset your digestion.
Several universities, government agencies, and Mars Inc – the candy maker – sponsored the National Academy of Sciences conference. Expect other candy makers to jump on this "chocolate is healthy" bandwagon.
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Many companies in the chocolate industry are looking to expand into a new market: health foods. They're busy developing a line of products high in beneficial flavonoids that should hit the markets within months.
Articles are already appearing in trade journals signaling that the time is ripe to teach the public about chocolate's health benefits. I wasn't surprised to find that an employee of The Hershey Company wrote one of the articles.
Chocolate does contain antioxidants. So do a large number of fruits and vegetables. But unlike fresh produce, chocolate contains caffeine, is high in fat, and is one of the foods that can trigger reflux esophagitis and headaches. If you have heartburn or migraines, chocolate could be the culprit.
If you're a chocoholic, or know someone who is, let me tell you why you probably crave it. Chocolate is higher in magnesium than almost any other food. A chocolate craving is often the sign of a magnesium deficiency (and too much calcium). And magnesium deficiencies are extremely common.
Saying that chocolate is a healthy food gives us a story we may want to hear. But it's misleading. There's nothing wrong with eating a little chocolate every once in a while – especially if it's organic chocolate, free from pesticides (such as Green & Black?s). So go ahead, have a piece. Just don't finish the whole box. But to say that it's likely to lower your heart disease and blood pressure is irresponsible.
I've written a number of articles on chocolate cravings, magnesium, and the pesticides in chocolate. You can read them at my website: www.womenshealthletter.com.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
2004 Cocoa Symposium, National Institutes of Health.
Miller, D. "Cocoa: a flavanol powerhouse," Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals, October 2005.