Is Chocolate Really Healthy?


A growing body of research suggests that certain compounds in chocolate can have a host of health benefits.

“We have heard how chocolate may be associated with a cardioprotective effect, and that it may lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol,”

said Dr. Randall Zusman, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s division of hypertension.

“From my perspective, it is interesting that a natural product, especially something like chocolate, may have a beneficial effect.”

The positive effects shown thus far are predominantly associated with substances called flavonoids, which are abundant in raw, unprocessed chocolate.

These substances are thought to be potent antioxidants — chemicals in food that have shown promise in halting the destructive action of free radicals in the body, which may lead to cancer.

The process that chocolate beans undergo between the field and the candy jar often rob chocolate of many of these helpful substances.

“The way that chocolate is manufactured and processed, most of the flavonoids are no longer present once it hits the shelves and our mouths,” Sandon said.

She adds that thus far, only one company has adopted the special, gentle processing method necessary to preserve the flavonoids in chocolate — the Mars company. And even then, she said any health claims the manufacturer makes about its chocolate would not likely stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Zusman agrees that it’s not just the ingredients, but also the process, that determine the health benefits of something like chocolate.

But no matter how healthy the researchers say chocolate is remember that chocolate bar, it’s still calories and fat.

Moderation Is Key

Sandon said the healthiest approach to chocolate, whether it’s made with cocoa butter or vegetable fat, is to view it the same way as it has been in the past — as a sweet and occasional treat.

“It really does still come back to the idea of moderation,” she said. “There is much better information supporting increased fruit and vegetable intake as far as heart health.

Chocolate is not a healthy food. No matter how you package it.”

RSS Trackback URL 30. April 2007 (11:27)
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