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Is Dark Chocolate as Healthy as Claimed?

Dark chocolate has been getting a lot of press recently. Click Here for news story.

In recent years enormous research has been focused into cocoa antioxidant flavonoid polyphenols and their beneficial effects on human health.

What’s amazing about cocoa polyphenols is the capacity to induce anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-thrombotic, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, immune boosting, cardio-protecting effects – all together. In fact, cocoa and cocoa drinks have long been used as medicinal supplements, and it wasn’t until after the 1930s that the consumption of cocoa and chocolate has shifted from medicinal to confectionery.

One of the most notable benefits of cocoa is its positive effect on nitric oxide (NO) production. Note that nitric oxide production can yield adverse reactions and toxic metabolites which must be neutralized by the body. Cocoa polyphenols protect the body against the adverse effects of nitric oxide metabolism – peroxynitrite oxidation and nitration reaction – which cause oxidative damage and degradation of tissues, particularly blood vessels.
Nitric oxide is essential for vasodilatation, healthy blood pressure, virility, muscle function and insulin sensitivity. However, as you age, your body gradually loses the ability to produce nitric oxide and instead it produces toxic nitrogenous metabolites. This partly explains why aging is associated with progression of inflammatory diseases, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, loss of virility, fat gain, muscle wasting, and cardiovascular disease.

Cocoa helps counteract the age related decline in nitric oxide production. And, along with its other metabolic rejuvenating properties, cocoa can certainly be classified as one of the most powerful anti-aging and performance enhancing foods.

Defense Nutrition - CacaoIndeed, 500 years ago cocoa was called the nectar of the gods. In the 16th century, Aztec Emperor Montezuma was a keen admirer of cocoa, calling it the divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. “A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk a whole day without food” (Hernan Corte’s/1519). The Aztecs called this drink chocolate.

With the discovery of the New World, cocoa became a luxury item in Europe mostly as an exotic drink and later on was processed with sugar to yield a solid confectionery chocolate. Since then, the modern chocolate industry has developed, and cocoa beans are now processed into multiple products.

The chocolate industry wants you to believe that chocolate possess the same health properties of cocoa. And in fact, most studies on cocoa are funded by chocolate manufacturers.

But is nowadays chocolate as healthy as claimed?

In view of the recent hype around cocoa, it is crucially important to strictly differentiate between the natural product cacao and the processed product chocolate, which is made by combining cocoa with sugar and sometimes other ingredients into a solid food product.
Today’s typical chocolate is made with a high fat and sugar content. And this is the core of the problem.

The combination of high fat and sugar is extremely toxic to human health. There is accumulating evidence that the combined fat and sugar disrupt muscle energy utilization, causing insulin resistance, diabetes, inflammatory disorders and fat gain particularly in the mid section. The high fat – sugar combo has been found to activate the same opiod receptors in the brain as crack cocaine. Yes, this addictive combination is largely responsible for the current epidemic of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

You can see why most of the health effects of cocoa are compromised or negated and therefore unapplicable to the typical chocolate product.

What does it mean in practical terms?

eat chocolateWhen purchasing chocolate, check the ingredients on the back label. If the chocolate has a sugar additives such as cane sugar, malt, maple, honey, dates, rice syrup, tapioca syrup, coconut sugar, molasses or fructose, stay away or restrict consumption of this product. And the same holds truth for chocolates made with sugar alcohol or artificial sweeteners, which are known for their bloating, digestive disrupting and toxic side effects.

But what about dark chocolate?

It has been commonly believed that dark chocolate is healthy and safe. Is this true?

Though the typical dark chocolate is superior to milk chocolate due to its higher polyphenols and lower sugar content, it is nevertheless made with fat and sugar and therefore should be restricted or avoided.
Also beware that most chocolate products today including dark chocolate are made with GMO cocoa beans. Make sure your chocolate is GMO free.

Note that to fully benefit from chocolate polyphenols, an adult needs to consume about 3.5-7.0 oz (100-200g) per day. The problem is that even the healthiest dark chocolate brands today are not designed for such a large consumption. Yes, a moderate serving of 3-4 oz of dark chocolate per day may be sufficient enough to affect your blood sugar and waist size.

For more information on cocoa and to find true innovative alternatives to conventional chocolate that can deliver the full health benefits of cocoa.  Click here.

About Ori Hofmekler — founder of Defense Nutrition and author of The Warrior Diet, is a nutritional and fitness expert. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

One Comment

  1. Avatar for Ori Hofmekler
    June 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    I use Navitas Raw Cacao Powder. That is my only source of chocolate. I ditched the candy form a long time ago. I add it to Warrior Whey. I make hot cocoa drinks with it by just adding water, stevia and coconut milk. I also make a cocoa/avocado mousse. Just adding coconut milk, avocado, stevia and cacao powder. It’s tasty and healthy.