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Is chocolate bad for you?

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How could I possibly ask whether chocolate bad for me, when I'm sure you've already heard this: Chocolate is the new wonder food!

Chocolate is full of minerals such as magnesium, iron and zinc. Chocolate helps release endorphins which are mood enhancers, making us feel good about ourselves. Eating chocolate can combat heart disease. Chocolate contains flavonoids and antioxidants which help to open up the blood vessels to the heart.

The list seems endless. A multitude of research reports the hidden benefits of chocolate.  Scientific studies point to its many health qualities. Suddenly, there doesn’t seem to be anything that chocolate can’t do.  Goddamit – as the Americans might say – it even tastes good to most of us!

Here at Cocoa and Heart we get asked lots of questions about the health benefits or otherwise of chocolate from our curious and well-informed students. And we like to take a balanced view. Which is not to say that we can’t be tongue in cheek occasionally about our favourite topic, or two.

But is it all too good to be true? Is it time to pull down the curtain on the all singing, all dancing qualities of chocolate and call time on the chocolate circus.  Milk, dark or white, is it right to let the chocolate caravan roll up and rollo on? Should we swirl away when the candy ringmaster tries to coax up closer with yet another tall tale about turkish delight and the bounty of a yet another tropical paradise. Or are we caught betwixt a caramel crush and a crunchie hard place?

Well, it’s certainly an interesting topic for any smartie. Whisper it more loudly; is chocolate bad for you? Should we take a time out and renounce chocolate in all its forms?

Not quite!

Like with many foods, chocolate is perfectly fine in moderation, especially proper dark chocolate. Commercially produced chocolate bars are probably best to be avoided in large quantities.

But there are occassions when chocolate can potentially cause health issues, especially to sensitive people.

Sensitivity to chocolate

First of all, let’s go back to the beginning - to the cocoa bean. In it’s raw and roasted state, it has a bitter taste and aroma. That’s because it contains alkaloids, such as theobromine.

This has a very similar effect to caffeine found in coffee. Indeed in extreme qualities, and in a more pure cocoa form, it can prove fatal to dogs and other household pets since it contains toxins which they can’t digest.

As a type of stimulant, your body may react to the chocolate by producing extra adrenalin. Short term highs are then followed by longer lows and mood changes, as the body tries to deal with toxic interlopers! This in turn can result in tiredness and restlessness and a lack of sleep. Dreaming of sweet things may not always lead to sweet dreams.

The theobromine found in cocoa/cocao can effect the central nervous system and lead to over stimulation of the heart. It may not be seismic but the sensation in extreme cases could be tremulous and cause an allergic reaction. And if you’re prone to migraines, then eating chocolate may make them worse.

Nutritional issues

Dark chocolate contains significantly higher amounts of cacao and lower amounts of sugar than white chocolate, making it healthier. Milk chocolate is high in calories, saturated fat and sugar. White chocolate even more so. Additionally, the refined carbohydrates it contains can cause spikes in your blood sugar, which can make your body resistant to insulin over time and may lead to Type 2 diabetes. The excess sugar may also adversely effect tooth decay and bring about cavities as well as contributing to weight gain. It certainly doesn’t have any extra nutritional value.

So, don’t be afraid to delve into the darker side of chocolate. And choose dark chocolate that contains cocoa butter, not other types of fat such as hydrogenated oils. It still contains fat and calories and caffeine , so you may wish to try sprinkling cocao nibs on cereals, have a de-caff morning drink or cut down on other sugar intakes.

And if there are little white lies being told about the health benefits of chocolate as a whole, and white chocolate in particular, then just whitewashing over this type of chocolate isn’t going to help much. You won’t be chewing the fat but you will be tasting it.

Sometimes, life is bitter sweet – although good quality dark chocolate need not be bitter. Without any added sugar it won’t give you a craving and you may just find that less is more. That way you can get sated rather than saturated with your love for chocolate.

A definite health warning for dogs

When it comes to dogs, the question, whether chocolate is bad for you is much easier to answer. High content dark chocolate (unprocessed covertiture or good quality chocolate bar) should definitelly come with a health warning for dogs. As we know, chocolate contains stimulant called theobromine, which animals are unable to digest or absorbe resulting in potential heart attack. You don't need to worry to much, if your dog accidently eats few squares of milk chocolate, but couple of bars of dark quality chocolate could definitelly cause some health issues. We've already covered this subject, quite extensively in our previous blog here.

So, is chocolate really bad for you? Well, it’s probably a bad question. Better to start becoming a chocolate taster for yourself, do a little research of your own and have a healthy attitude to chocolate claims of all kinds - or should that be kinder?  Bar none. 

Nick

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