It’s a real
pleasure to once again interview Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, who
has a number of diverse areas of expertise, and many in which
we share an interest. The subject of this interview is chocolate.
been quite a few interesting scientific studies emerging about
chocolate over the past few years. There’s also a lot of confusion
about chocolate what type to eat and how much, types to
avoid, etc., so I hope to dispel some of the myths on this subject.
can be used therapeutically, but only if it’s the right kind.
Chocolate is like anything else: garbage in, garbage out. Consuming
poor quality chocolate, such as chocolate loaded with sugar and
chemicals, is no more beneficial to your body than a drinking
helpful to understand the distinction between cacao, cocoa and
chocolate. Here are some definitions:
refers to the plant, a small evergreen tree of the species Theobroma
cacao, cultivated for its seeds, also known as cacao beans
or cocoa beans
Refers to the powder made from roasted, husked and
ground cacao seeds, from which most of the fat has been removed
butter: The fat component of the cacao seed
The solid food or candy made from a preparation of cacao seeds
(roasted); if the cacao seeds are not roasted, then you have
“raw chocolate,” which is also typically sweetened
of health benefits now associated with the cocoa bean is really
quite impressive, including benefits to your heart and blood vessels,
brain and nervous system, improved insulin sensitivity, and even
possibly slowing down the rate at which you age. Cacao’s benefits
are related to compounds naturally occurring in the bean, including
epicatechin and resveratrol.
an antioxidant called epicatechin,
thought to help shield your nerve cells from damage. Norman Hollenberg,
a professor of medicine at Harvard who has spent years studying
the Kuna people of Panama who consume up to 40 cups of cocoa a
week, believes epicatechin is so important it should be considered
a vitamin. The Kuna
have less than a 10 percent risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer
and diabetes, which are the most prevalent diseases ravaging the
epicatechin, cacao is also high in resveratrol,
a potent antioxidant found in red wine, known for its ability
to cross your blood-brain barrier to help protect your nervous
meta-analysis found that eating
chocolate could slash your risk of cardiovascular disease
by 37 percent and your stroke risk by 29 percent. Another 2012
meta-analysis, this one in the UK1,
found that cocoa/chocolate lowered insulin resistance, reduced
blood pressure, increased blood vessel elasticity, and slightly
explains how the health benefits ofcocoa require a relatively
narrow dose range. There is a “Goldilocks curve” too little
or too much means no significant benefit occurs. Dr. Golomb reports
that, in a rat study done at UC San Diego:
derived from cocoa has favorable effects, but with a relatively
tight dose response range. A modest amount consumed every day
by these rats increased the production of mitochondria (energy-producing
elements in cells), increased capillary action (meaning access
to blood, oxygen, nutrients, etc. of muscle tissue), and actually
lead to weight loss despite no fewer calories consumed and despite
increased muscle capacity and endurance in these rats.”
table highlights the wide range of positive health benefits science
suggests are conferred by the cocoa bean. (To read the studies,
go to the chocolate
page at GreenMedInfo.com.)
One of the
ways chocolate can provide cardiovascular benefit is by assisting
with nitric oxide metabolism, as described in an article by Ori
to being essential for muscle function, sexual health, and insulin
sensitivity, nitric oxide protects your heart by relaxing your
blood vessels and thereby lowering your blood pressure. However,
nitric oxide production produces adverse reactions and toxic metabolites,
which must be neutralized by your body so they don’t result in
oxidative damage to your blood vessel lining (by peroxynitrite
oxidation and nitration reactions). Cocoa polyphenols protect
your body from these metabolites and help counter the typical
age-related decline in nitric oxide production3.
Look for When Selecting Chocolate
your cocoa is to its natural raw state, the higher its nutritional
value. Ideally, your chocolate or cocoa should be consumed raw
chocolate, you can optimize its nutritional punch by looking for
higher cacao and lower sugar content. In general, the darker the
chocolate, the higher the cacao. However, cacao is fairly bitter,
and the higher the percentage cacao, the more bitter it is. The
are what make the chocolate bitter, so manufacturers often remove
them. But, it’s those flavanols that are responsible for many
of chocolate’s health benefits.
the bitterness, most chocolate is sweetened, so it’s a matter
of balancing nutritional benefit with palatability.
raw cacao is the most nutritious form, most of the health studies
to date involve consumption of cocoa or chocolate, not raw
cacao. But the results are STILL significantly positive.This
fact suggests a good portion of the nutritional benefit of chocolate
is retained after processing. Your goal then is to find a chocolate
that’s as minimally processedas possible, but still palatable.
You don’t want to eliminate too many of the health benefits by
eating a product that contains a lot of sugar and chemicals. Choose
chocolate with a cocoa/cacao percentage of about 70 or higher.
If you can
tolerate the flavor of raw cacao, then that’s the absolute best
is not a good choice as it contains pasteurized milk, which is
not good for you, and largequantities of sugar. White chocolate
is also high in sugar and contains none of the phytonutrients,
so is not a good choice either. Dark chocolate is your best option.
Make Your Own Chocolate
why I believe that, if you are convinced of the value and benefits
of chocolate, one of the best ways to consume it is to make
it from high quality materials yourself. I describe how
to do that in the video below. This is a recipe I created
from scratch and there are no specific measurements. You can simply
use raw cocoa butter and that will give you a finished candy that
melts, or you can add raw pastured butter and coconut oil, which
have their own health benefits. If you use these ingredients the
candy will melt at a lower temperature and you will most likely
need to keep it in the refrigerator to keep it from melting.
to Steer Clear Of
labels carefully and evaluate each product for the following:
of sweetener: Not only should you choose chocolate
with low sugar content, but you should also look at what form
of sugar it contains. Honey is sometimes used to sweeten raw
chocolate products, which is a good choice (in moderation).
If you can find chocolate sweetened with stevia or lo han, that
would be preferable to cane sugar, fructose or high fructose
corn syrup. Strictly avoid any product containing artificial
will reverse some of the positive benefits of chocolate. For
example, fructose breaks down into a variety of waste products
that are bad for your body, one of which is uric acid. Uric
acid drives up your blood
pressure by inhibiting the production of nitric oxide in
your blood vessels, which helps your vessels maintain their
elasticity. So, excess fructose can lead to elevated blood pressure,
as a result of nitric oxide suppression.
engineered cocoa beans: Select chocolate products that
are certified organic so that you be sure they aren’t genetically
engineered (GE). Most chocolate today (even dark chocolate)
is GE, unfortunately4.
Also opt for fair-trade products.
of fat: Fat in chocolate, as long as it’s the right
kind, is a good thing. It slows down the absorption of sugar,
lessening the insulin spike. Ideally, the type of fat in your
chocolate bar should be what is contained in the natural plant
cocoa butter. The primary fatty acid in cocoa butter
is stearic acid, which is the only saturated fat that favorably
affects HDL, without adversely affecting LDL, according to Dr.
oil would be the next best fat in chocolate. Make sure you
avoid soybean oil (and any other form of soy),
and other vegetable oils and trans fats.
Chocolate Should You Eat and How Often?
no hard and fast rules when it comes to dosing yourself with chocolate.
But here are some basic guidelines.
it seems preferable to consume smaller amounts of chocolate at
more frequent intervals, much like the principle of split dosing
for supplements, in order to ensure a steadier stream of nutrients
in your bloodstream. According to Dr. Golomb, studies show people
eating chocolate more than five times per week have a lower body
mass index. That said, if you eat chocolate 20 times a day, you’re
going to have a problem due to the sheer quantity you’re consuming!
Daily consumption in divided doses (two to three times per day)
is probably beneficial, as long as you aren’t going overboard
in quantity, and as long as you’re eating high quality chocolate.
to Ori Hofmekler2, in order to fully benefit from chocolate, you’d
have to consume about 3.5 to 7 ounces per day. He states:
problem is that even the healthiest dark chocolate brands today
are not designed for such a large consumption.Yes, a moderate
serving of three to four ounces of dark chocolate per day may
be sufficient enough to affect your blood sugar and waist size.”
no simple answer. It depends on your insulin sensitivity, your
activity level, your overall health, and the particular composition
of the chocolate you’re eating. You’ll just have to exercise your
best judgment here. If you avail yourself of a chocolate free
of these additives and very low in sugar, then you can consume
more of it without the downside.
purchasing chocolate, check the ingredients on the back label.
If the chocolate has a sugar additives such as cane sugar, malt,
maple, honey, dates, rice syrup, tapioca syrup, coconut sugar,
molasses or fructose, stay away or restrict consumption of this
product. And the same holds true for chocolates made with sugar
alcohol or artificial sweeteners, which are known for their bloating,
digestive disrupting and toxic side effects.”
Causes You Adverse Reactions…
group of people has trouble sleeping when they use caffeine, and
some of the compounds in chocolate, such as theobromine, do have
caffeine-like effects. Some people are slow to metabolize caffeine,
whereas others metabolize it quickly and are not adversely affected.
If you don’t usually have a problem with chocolate but suddenly
develop one, it’s possible you could be reacting to something
in that particular chocolate. Dr. Golomb points out that
recently, copper has been appearing chocolate crops, originatingin
fungicides, and this includes organic chocolate crops.
copper to zinc ratios have been linked unfavorably to depression,
aggression, and various other things, which you know, some studies
actually seem to link chocolate consumption at least observationally
2005, some processed chocolate was found to be contaminated
When this was discovered, it was assumed the cocoa plants had
been tainted by leaded gasoline. However, lead levels were found
to be 60 times higher than could be accounted for by this, and
it was never determined whether the lead contamination came from
the shipping orthe manufacturing process.
is, listen to your body, and be careful about the source of your
chocolate. If you experience caffeine-like or other negative effects
from your chocolate, then you should probably avoid it. Also seriously
consider making your own chocolate which can go a long way towards
satisfying your sweet tooth in a healthier way.