May 3, 2004
This week: some good news.
"The good news is
that most of the bad effects of eating chocolate are either overstated
or entirely false.... Chocolate also has not been proven to cause
cavities or tooth decay. In fact, there are indications that the
cocoa butter in the chocolate coats the teeth and may help protect
them by preventing plaque from forming. The sugar in chocolate does
contribute to cavities, but no more than the sugar in any other
While eating chocolate
should not be substituted for good dental hygiene, there are parts
of the chocolate plant that are actually good for your teeth.
"Chocolate can protect
against tooth decay, researchers have found. It is so successful
in combating decay that scientists believe some of its components
may one day be added to mouthwash or toothpaste. A study carried
out by researchers at Osaka University in Japan found that parts
of the cocoa bean, the main ingredient of chocolate, thwart mouth
bacteria and tooth decay. They discovered that the cocoa bean husk
- the outer part of the bean which usually goes to waste in chocolate
production - has an anti-bacterial effect on the mouth and can fight
effectively against plaque and other damaging agents.... The Japanese
scientists found that chocolate is less harmful than many other
sweet foods because the antibacterial agents in cocoa beans offset
its high sugar levels."
To say that something is
"less harmful," does not really say that it is healthful--and
this is just dental health, what about the rest of the body?
"Myth #2: Chocolate
and greasy foods cause acne.
Fact: Though eating too many sugary, high-fat foods is never a good
idea, studies show that there is no link between diet and acne."
Again, this is just an
example of a way in which it isn't as bad for you as was once thought.
Does that mean it's good for you?
the same type of disease-fighting 'phenolic' chemicals as red wine
and fruits and vegetables, says Andrew Waterhouse of the University
of California at Davis.... These antioxidant phenolics combat cell
damage leading to chronic disease such as cancer and heart disease.
New Japanese tests show that phenolics extracted from chocolate
suppressed cell-damaging chemicals and boosted immune functioning
in human blood samples."
Is this really saying that
a candy bar should be considered health food?
"[F]or chocolate lovers, we don't know yet if chocolate is
'good' for you, but there is hope that chocolate may have some health
benefits. However, it is clear that chocolate is high in calories
and contains few other established nutrients, so it will never be
a 'health food.'"
So, what does this mean?
Is chocolate good to eat, or not?
"Over the last decade
or so researchers have come to see a relationship between consuming
more flavonoids and lowering the death rate from heart disease,
said Dr. Helmut Sies, chairman of the department of biochemistry
at the University of Duesseldorf, Germany. Dr. Norman K. Hollenberg
of Harvard Medical School said he found cocoa was effective in lowering
the blood pressure in his study of the isolated Kuna Indians who
live on islands off the coast of Panama. Despite a high salt diet,
the Kuna have normal blood pressure, he explained, and they consume
large quantities of locally grown cocoa which is high in flavonoids.
When Kuna moved to a city and switched to commercial cocoas with
fewer of the chemicals their blood pressure tended to rise, he noted.
Normal processing of cocoa reduces the amount of the flavonoids,
Hollenberg noted. Versions are being produced with the chemicals
retained and, served at the conference, tasted slightly stronger
than normal cocoa but still were enjoyable.
Hollenberg said flavonoids
are protective antioxidants, and early research also indicates that
cocoa with flavonoids can help increase blood flow in the brain
and the extremities, which could prove beneficial to the elderly
and diabetics. That research is in its early stages, he cautioned."
While chocolate may begin
it's journey from the cocoa plant with beneficial properties, some
of these are removed through processing, and others are canceled
out by the ingredients that are added to create the product that
you find on the shelf. Sugar is added (which cancels out some of
the benefits to teeth) and milk is added (which seems to reduce
the effects of chocolate as an antioxidant).
"Dark chocolate may
be healthier than milk chocolate, according to a team of scientists.
Researchers in Scotland and Italy say dark chocolate has much better
antioxidant properties. This means that it can protect the heart
and arteries from oxidative damage, similar to the rust that develops
on metal over time. Writing in the journal Nature, they said adding
milk to chocolate may cancel out these health benefits.... Dark
chocolate was found to boost blood antioxidant levels by nearly
20%. However, there was no such effect when volunteers ate milk
chocolate or drank milk with dark chocolate. 'What this tells us,
is that probably the proteins in milk bind with the antioxidants
in chocolate,' Professor Alan Crozier of Glasgow University told
BBC News Online. 'As a consequence, they are not being absorbed
to the same extent as they would be with dark chocolate. Any potential
protective effects are lost.' ... While lovers of dark chocolates
may seize on the study findings, Professor Crozier warned against
over indulging. 'Milk and dark chocolate contains high levels of
saturated fats, which get into the blood stream and increase levels
cholesterol, increasing the risks of heart disease.' ... 'It is
a useful supplement to a balanced diet but it should not be a substitute
for five pieces of fruit and vegetables each day.'"
So, what does this all
Chocolate may not be the
perfect food, but it can have value.
*Before we get to the questions,
a side note for those of you who are wondering about white chocolate:
"White chocolate originates
from the cocoa (cacao) plant, but it is not 'chocolate.' According
to the FDA, to be called 'chocolate' a product must contain chocolate
liquor, which is what gives it the biter intense chocolate flavor
(and color) to dark and milk chocolates. White chocolate contains
cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, lecithin and flavorings (usually
including vanilla). Cocoa butter is the fat from cocoa beans, extracted
from the cocoa beans during the process of making chocolate and
cocoa powder. Cocoa butter has very little 'chocolate' flavor. Cocoa
butter is one of the ingredients used to make real chocolate, it
gives chocolate the ability to remain solid at room temperature,
yet melt easily in the mouth. Cocoa butter is one of the most stable
fats known, containing natural antioxidants that prevent rancidity
and give it a storage life of 2 to 5 years. It is used for
its smooth texture in foods (including chocolate) and in cosmetics
Questions of the Week:
Aside from just sticking with, "Everything in moderation,"
how can chocolate be incorporated into a healthful diet? What does
this mean with regards to candy bars? Chocolate chips? Hot cocoa?
If you want a chocolate fix, but still want (or need) to watch your
cholesterol, what can you do? What are the differences between the
different types of chocolate? If you are truly looking to eat the
chocolate that is "best" for you, what should you look
for? Now that the manufacturers of chocolate products have this
information, how could (should) they use it? How would you use it
if you were in their position? As a consumer, how can (should? will?)
you use this information about the different attributes of chocolate?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum