Surprise! Chocolate CAN Be Good for You, at the Right Dose_Featured_, Food, Nutrition, Prevention Thursday, August 30th, 2012
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.
There have 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.
Chocolate 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 a soda.
It’s first helpful to understand the distinction between cacao, cocoa and chocolate. Here are some definitions:
- Cacao: 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
- Cocoa: Refers to the powder made from roasted, husked and ground cacao seeds, from which most of the fat has been removed
- Cocoa butter: The fat component of the cacao seed
- Chocolate: 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
Is Chocolate YOUR Favorite Vegetable?
The number 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.
Cacao contains 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 Western world.
Besides 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 system.
One 2012 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 reduced LDL.
Dr. Golomb explains how the health benefits of cocoa 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:
“…Epicatechin 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.”
The following 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.)