Sorry: Chocolate Isn’t a Health Food

We see it all the time: dark chocolate is health food. Researchers have proclaimed it to be a superfood. Dozens upon dozens of studies have known that dark chocolate is a healing food. One study even went to go so far as saying it was good for your teeth. Hey, maybe you can also rub it on lead to turn it into gold. Now, scientists are asking us to accept the less fun and far more believable truth: chocolate is a delicious treat but not a superfood.

But, if chocolate isn’t a health food, how have so many studies gotten it wrong? The answer might be flawed methodology and very specific tests designed to give positive answers when broader analyses would get very different results. And who paid for the research? The Mars Center for Cocoa Health Science and Mars Symbioscience. The study of chocolate is being funded for by the people who make Snickers. The mission statement of the Mars Canter for Cocoa Health Science is, “It is the mission of the Mars Center for Cocoa Health Science to pioneer and share the data and outcomes of leading scientific research to help advance the understanding of cocoa flavanols and their potential health benefits for the purpose of improving human health.”

The flavonoids in cocoa do seem to have genuine health benefits but, once the sugar and fat are added to make dark chocolate, those benefits are lost. Michael Coe, a Yale Univ. chocolate historian and co-author of the book The True History of Chocolate, says, "[Funding cocoa science] is quite clearly a sales thing to sell more chocolate because [the studies] suggest it’s not all that bad for you. Chocolate companies can say they have scientifically proven that chocolate will lower your blood pressure, keep you from heart attacks... I don’t want to be cynical — a lot of their science is good; it’s put in peer-reviewed journals. But... if you’re hooked on chocolate, you’re hooked on sugar.”

“I hate to ruin the fun, but I wouldn’t recommend relying on dark chocolate to improve your health,” Ali Webster, PhD, RD, associate director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation said. “Even with a few notable health benefits, it’s important to remember that dark chocolate should still be considered a treat.”

If you would like to eat chocolate, dark chocolate has more flavanols in general. Unsweetened chocolate gets rid of the sugar and therefore be suitable for keto. For instance, Lily’s Sweets has only 170 calories per 40 grams, less than a gram of sugar and 25 percent of your daily iron. But keep in mind serving size as the 40 grams contain 17 grams of fat and 19 of carbs.

Chocolate may come to us someday in the form of a supplement, but you won’t be eating four squares of Hersey with your coffee in the morning. The COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) is looking at ~22,000 Americans across the country to learn if taking a 600 mg/day supplement of cocoa flavanols or a multivitamin reduces the risk for heart disease, stroke or cancer. The study will last four years. Hopefully, we’ll find out the full truth about chocolate’s properties!

February 20, 2019
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