Chocolate has been a favorite sweet treat for people of all ages for centuries; however, questions still remain about its effects on human health. Most cocoa-containing products are considered super foods because of their antioxidant content and heart-healthy benefits. Meanwhile, chocolate bars and other confections have been linked with obesity and tooth decay. The real impact of chocolate on health is best understood when looking at both sides of the argument.
The most important health benefit of chocolate comes from its antioxidant content. Antioxidants, found in cocoa, protect cells from damage by neutralizing harmful molecules. Dark chocolate has the highest amount of antioxidants, because it has the least amount of added sugar, fat, and other ingredients. It has been linked to a decrease in inflammation and a decrease in the risk of some forms of cancer. Also, because dark chocolate is high in dietary fiber, it can help reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol.
In addition to its antioxidants, dark chocolate is also high in a group of minerals called flavanols. Flavonoids can lower blood pressure and keep arteries healthy. They can also reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases. Although not as potent as dark chocolate, other types of chocolate (e.g., milk and white chocolate) still contain flavonoids, as well as other important nutrients, such as magnesium and iron.
On the downside, chocolate, particularly when consumed in excess, can be harmful to health. First, chocolate contains large amounts of sugar, which can lead to obesity and related health conditions. In addition, processed chocolate often includes unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats, which can lead to an elevated risk of heart diseases and stroke. Chocolate is also a source of empty calories and can increase tooth decay if not consumed in moderation. Finally, chocolate may contain small amounts of substances that can be harmful in large amounts, such as caffeine, oxalates, and theobromine (a stimulant).
In conclusion, chocolate can be both good and bad for you depending on the type, amount, and frequency of consumption. Dark chocolate, which contains high levels of antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients, has been linked to a decrease in inflammation, improved cardiac health, and a decreased risk of some cancers. However, processed chocolate can be unhealthy, due to its high sugar and fat content, and can contribute to diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions. Overall, moderation is key, and eating no more than one or two standard-sized chocolate bars a day is regularly advised.