Is Chocolate Really As Healthy As We Think?

World Chocolate Day is the perfect day for indulgence in one of the world’s favourite guilty pleasures.

If you are particularly health or image-conscious you might opt for some healthier dark chocolate, the virtues of which we have been hearing about for years.

But does chocolate really have the health benefits that studies claim?

Superfood Status

A quick internet search yields list after list of impressive health benefits related to chocolate consumption. Here are just a few:

  • Good for the heart and blood circulation
  • Reduces the risk of stroke
  • Reduces the risk of diabetes
  • Can protect your skin against UV rays
  • Cancer prevention
  • Alzheimer’s prevention

It is easy to see how some people are treating chocolate, or more specifically, dark chocolate, as a “superfood”.

Chocolate Covered Controversy

Unfortunately for chocolate lovers, there could be a good reason to doubt these claims.

One of the issues is the sources of funding for the studies that discover all these health benefits.

Many are paid for by the food companies themselves, drawing their credibility into question.

An analysis of 100 studies funded or supported by Mars discovered that 98% had a favourable outcome for the confectionery giant.

A review of more than 200 studies on various food products found that scientists who received funding from the food industry were six times more likely to report positive or neutral results.

We can see the same phenomenon in studies that receive pharmaceutical industry funding. Results tend to favour whoever pays the bills.

Questionable Science

Methodology is another bone of contention when it comes to these studies. Peers in the science community claim that often the studies are too short and have too small a sample size to offer any conclusive evidence.

For example, the media reported a 2014 study as evidence that chocolate could reverse memory impairment from ageing. However, that study had fewer than 40 participants assigned to four different test groups, and it only lasted 12 weeks.

The role media play is also under scrutiny, where accuracy may be exchanged for a more attractive headline. Findings might be overstated, while key points or provisions conveniently omitted.

Reports on the memory study focused on chocolate as the source of the positive effects. In fact, the study was carried out using high and low doses of flavanols, compounds found in cocoa and other plant-based foods.

Similarly, a study which found cocoa flavanols improved cognitive function was reported by media outlets as evidence that chocolate can help prevent Alzheimer’s.

Hope in Flavanols

Despite claims that lean towards sensationalism, cocoa flavanols are thought to have some health benefits. At the very least they cannot hurt.

Unfortunately, the amount of flavanols in chocolate and dark chocolate does not compare to the high doses used in scientific studies. Flavanols are very bitter and mostly removed to make both types of chocolate more palatable.

If you are eager to test the efficacy of cocoa flavanols for yourself, raw, unsweetened cocoa powder or cocoa flavanol supplements could be your best bet.

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