Cocoa Craze: Is Chocolate a Healthy Addiction?
By: Constance McKenzie
There are several gustatory pleasures that walk the fine line between health and vice: red wine, nuts, and chocolate are the major players. For chocolate in particular, do the potential benefits outweigh the drawbacks of sugar and fat consumption? Harvard Medical School (2009) reports that unsweetened cocoa can have positive effects on cholesterol and insulin resistance. However, to get the dose of cocoa flavonoid used in the study (400-500 milligrams), you'd have to eat 32 bars of milk chocolate or 8 or 9 bars of dark chocolate!
Before diving into the nutritional details about chocolate, let's look at the big picture of the global cocoa market: Chocolate makes both chocoholics and manufacturers happy. The World Cocoa Foundation estimates that global chocolate confectionery sales reached $100 billion in November 2011. Marketers are promoting chocolate as a "functional" food, meaning it can provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. However, medical opinions on the health benefits of chocolate vary. Could chocolate help you diet? A UC San Diego study (2012) suggests that any kind of chocolate may help control body mass. And cocoa may have positive health effects extending even to cholesterol levels. Nutritionists and dietitians may recommend eating dark chocolate, but watch out—the FDA hasn't set a standard of what "dark chocolate" actually means.
The botanical name for cacao translates as "food of the gods," but what's the bottom line? Do the benefits of consuming chocolate outweigh the health hazards of devouring too much sugar? Take a look at the infographic below to examine some of the professed health benefits, who are the largest consumers worldwide, and what constitutes “healthy” chocolate.
“Cocoa Market Statistics,” World Cocoa Foundation, March 2012
“Association Between More Frequent Chocolate Consumption and Lower BMI,” The JAMA Network, March 2012
“Global Chocolate Market worth $98.3 billion by 2016,” Markets and Markets, May 2011
“Chocolate and Your Health—Guilty Pleasure or Terrific Treat?” Harvard Health, 2009
Please see the infographic for a full list of sources.