Chocolate, and its reported therapeutic properties, has made recent splashes across the media. In fact, several new and different medical studies performed by reputable universities, organizations, and institutions cite the possible benefits of eating chocolate.
The following is meant to be a brief overview of research results as related by a variety of resources and publications. However, scientists are constantly uncovering new information about the more than 300 chemicals contained in chocolate—so keep your eyes on the news for the latest updates and changes in chocolate health.
Here are some interesting facts compiled by the Field Museum in Chicago for their Chocolate Exhibit on the health benefits of chocolate.
Does chocolate cause cavities?
Not necessarily. According to a recent study by Osaka University in Japan, cacao contains antibacterial agents that actually fight tooth decay. However, most mass-produced chocolate contains sugar, which is known to cause tooth decay and probably counteracts the benefits of these agents.
Does chocolate cause acne?
Not according to studies performed by the Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the U.S. Naval Academy. Eating or not eating chocolate made no difference in the skin condition of the study participants. In fact, most doctors believe that acne is not linked primarily to any diet.
Will the caffeine in chocolate make me jittery?
Probably not. Cacao does contain a number of stimulants, such as caffeine and theobromine, but in small amounts that are diluted even further when processed into chocolate. In fact, one ounce of milk chocolate contains about the same amount of caffeine as one cup of decaffeinated coffee. Interestingly, one study has shown that the smell of chocolate may actually relax you by increasing theta waves in the brain.
Can chocolate cause headaches?
There is little evidence of this, according to research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh. However, some studies suggest that chocolate may trigger headaches specifically in migraine sufferers.
Is chocolate an aphrodisiac?
Not really. Chocolate contains small amounts of a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA), which is a mild mood elevator. It’s the same chemical that our brain produces when we feel happy or “in love.” The mild “rush” we get from this substance may be why some people say they’re “addicted” to chocolate.
Will chocolate raise my cholesterol levels?
Contrary to popular misconception, eating lots of chocolate does not raise blood cholesterol levels. According to Mayo Clinic studies, chocolate contains stearic acid, which is a neutral fat that does not increase bad cholesterol (LDL). Also, the cocoa butter in chocolate contains oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fat. This is the same type of fat found in olive oil that may actually raise good cholesterol (HDL).
Will eating chocolate make me fat?
It can—if you eat enough of it. Chocolate, especially milk chocolate, is high in calories. In fact, it was once prescribed to help fatten up patients suffering from wasting diseases like tuberculosis. However, some people claim that drinking a cup of hot chocolate before a meal actually diminishes their appetite. One researcher at the Aromocology Patch Co. Ltd. even experimented with helping patients lose weight by having them sniff a chocolate-scented patch whenever they were tempted to snack!
Does chocolate contain any nutrients?
Yes, it does, in small amounts. A 1.5-ounce milk chocolate bar contains recommended daily values of the following vitamins and minerals:
- 3 grams of protein
- 15% of the Daily Value of riboflavin
- 9% of the Daily Value for calcium
- 7% of the Daily Value for iron
And if you add nuts like almonds or peanuts into the mix, you increase all of the amounts of nutrients listed above.
Will I live longer if I eat chocolate?
Perhaps. A Harvard University study found that men who ate chocolate lived one year longer than those who didn’t. Scientists think that chocolate contains chemicals that help keep blood vessels elastic and increase beneficial antioxidants in the bloodstream, but research is under way and no conclusive results have been found.
Many people eat chocolate when they are sad or feeling down. Others crave the stuff, claiming they are addicted to chocolate’s unique taste and smell. Some even assert that chocolate can relax you, help you lose weight, and even prolong your life.
Scientists from many different institutions and organizations have conducted a number of studies on chocolate in recent years in order to sort through these claims. What they have discovered will not only surprise you, but may forever change the way you think about, buy, and eat chocolate.