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Chocolate and Health

Health Benefits of Chocolate?

Craig M. Wax, DO

From time to time, the media proclaims, “Chocolate has health benefits!”  It does sound too good to be true, doesn’t it?  The treat that most people have enjoyed since childhood could be healthy for you?  The answer is yes and no…

The word "chocolate" comes from , “Xocoatl”from the Nahuatl  language of the Aztecs of Mexico meaning, “bitter water.” The chocolate residue found in an ancient Maya pot suggests that The Maya word for the plant was, “Cacau.”  Mayans were drinking chocolate  2,600 years ago.  Chocolate is made from the seed of the tropical cacao  tree. Like coffee, cocoa does not acquire the richness of its color and the fullness of its flavor until it is roasted. Today, chocolate commonly refers to bars made from the combination of cocoa solids, fat, sugar and other ingredients. Chocolate can also be made into beverages called cocoa and hot chocolate,  as originated by the Aztecs and the Mayas.

There are many variations of chocolate on the US market.  There are three basic types dark, milk and white chocolate.  They are made from mixtures of sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, and optional milk or milk powder and vanilla.  In the US, sugar is the main ingredient in most chocolate  products so they are not healthy. 

Dark chocolate has flavenoids/flavenols(i.e. catechins)and polyphenols.  These have shown beneficial to health in medical journals recently.   An original article documented research in 2003 that flavanol rich cocoa causes blood vessel dilation in healthy humans.1  In Hypertension journal 2005, cocoa was shown to reduce blood pressure, insulin resistance, and improve blood vessel dilations in patients with hypertension(high blood pressure).2 In Heart journal 2006, dark chocolate was shown to improve blood vessel lining and platelet function.3  Most recently, in the Archives of Internal Medicine 2007, again research showed that cocoa may lower blood pressure.4  This is exciting news chocolate lovers!  Remember that the studies used more dark chocolate (100g) than most people can consume without adding many calories to their daily diets.

Be aware that most chocolate products available in the US are more sugar and corn syrup than actual cocoa.  The US Food and Drug Administration requires only 10% cacao solids to be called, “chocolate.”  In the mid-1990s, the European chocolatiers moved back toward the original recipe with more than 50% cacao solids.  These were the standards prior to 1800.  Currently, many worldwide  products and a just a few US products are made with more chocolate liquor and cocoa than sugar.  Also be aware that the more original cocoa that a product has, the more theobromine(caffeine-like stimulant) that it contains.  Read the label, as always.  Buy chocolate that is at least 65% cocoa.  So called “gourmet” products in supermarkets are 72% cacao.  Hershey’s and Ghirardelli are two brands that feature this mixture.  Fair trade Vintage Plantations feature 55%, 65% and 90% dark chocolate bars from Ecuador.  These can be made into hot chocolate drinks with milk or soy milk.  If you want to try a healthy treat, try a hot 90% chocolate soy milk drink with no added sugar. It incorporates the health benefits of soy and chocolate.   Its taste is something between  that of hot chocolate and coffee and is out of this world.  Enjoy in good health!


1 J Hypertension 21:2281-2286 ©Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

2 Hypertension 2005;46:398-405 ©American Heart Association

3 Heart 2006;92;119-120 © 2007 BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.

4 Archives of Internal Medicine, Apr 2007;167:626-634©American Medical Association


Craig M. Wax, DO, LLC of Mullica Hill, NJ provides information on health, nutrition, family medicine, preventive medicine, wellness, natural treatments, alternative medicine, integrative medicine, osteopathic medicine and just plain common sense.
Craig M. Wax, D.O., L.L.C. © 2014 ~ All Rights Reserved