When you tear the silvery wrapping off your oval-shaped cocoa bundle of joy this weekend, are you considering the health benefits of the chocolate at all? Are there actually any benefits aside its good taste?
Chocolate came to Europe in the 16th century and, since then, cocoa seeds are processed in various different ways. Chocolate is said to be the most craved food in the world; initially it was thought of as a luxury item, but is now considered to be a medicine.
A study in the Netherlands published in 20131 in The Journal of Medicine offers some interesting discussion on its possible benefits.
Here are five reported benefits of chocolate:
1. Rich source of antioxidants
Chocolate is said to be the third highest daily source of antioxidants for Americans. Antioxidants found in chocolate have been shown to inhibit plasma lipid oxidation.
2. Blood pressure-lowering effects
A large-scale study in the Netherlands recruited men aged 65-85 years. The subjects were asked about their dietary intake when they enrolled in the study and again at five-year intervals. Over the next 15 years, men who consumed cocoa regularly had significantly lower blood pressure than those who did not. Consumption of dark chocolate bars for 15 days has been reported to reduce systolic blood pressure in healthy subjects, as well as in young and elderly hypertensive patients.
3. Anti-stress effects
There are several bioactive compounds in chocolate that promote alertness. A study in Switzerland revealed that chocolate alleviates stress. Following 14 days of dark chocolate ingestion, stress parameters in the adults who exhibited high anxiety profiles became comparable with low-stress individuals.
4. Anti-diabetic effects
A reduction in insulin resistance and an increase in insulin sensitivity were observed after ingestion of flavonol-rich chocolate in healthy individuals and hypertensive patients. Another study demonstrated a positive impact on glucose and insulin responses, following an oral glucose tolerance test.
5. Cocoa and exercise recovery
Chocolate supplementation before exercise could result in rapid recovery of post-exercise physiological and metabolic changes. Plasma glucose levels of subjects increased significantly at 15 minutes after chocolate intake and stayed at moderately high levels until 30 minutes after an hour’s running when compared with the glucose levels of the placebo supplemented group.
The majority of studies claiming the benefits of chocolate are small-scale, sponsored/carried out by the chocolate manufacturers whose personal interests cannot be ignored. Additional large-scale observational and/or interventional studies from non-biased sources are required before clinicians can absolutely recommend chocolate consumption guidelines to their patients.
<1> Latif, R. (2013) Chocolate/cocoa and human health: a review, Netherlands Journal of Medicine, 2(71):63-68.