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Updated Monthly - February/2004
The Power of Chocolate

Chocolate is often considered a ‘naughty but nice’ food, perhaps because it tastes so good and offers goodie antioxidants. Athough high in calories, chocolate has several health benefits.

Is chocolate bad for the heart?

No, chocolate contains beneficial antioxidants called flavonoids, which may actually reduce the harmful effects of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. It may even lower blood pressure, according to one recent small study from Germany. Some lab studies suggest that cocoa flavonoids may also reduce the growth of cancer cells. An ounce of dark chocolate has about the same amount of flavonoids as half a cup of brewed black tea, another good source. But don’t look to chocolate as a proven way to prevent heart disease and cancer. If you simply add chocolate to your diet, you’re likely to gain weight, which is bad for your heart.

The fat in chocolate has little effect on blood cholesterol. Though it is highly saturated, the fat is mostly stearic acid, which does not boost cholesterol.

Is dark chocolate better for you than milk chocolate?

Dark chocolate, including bittersweet and semisweet, does contain more flavonoids; otherwise the differences are small. Milk chocolate contains some milk, of course, but less chocolate liquor (the ground-up center of the cocoa bean) than dark chocolate. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter. It contains no chocolate liquor and is not, technically speaking, chocolate at all.

Is chocolate a major source of caffeine?

No, it has only small amounts. A one-ounce bar of milk chocolate contains about 6 milligrams of caffeine. The same amount of dark chocolate has 20 milligrams. A cup of cocoa has 20 milligrams or less. For comparison, a cup of tea averages 40 milligrams; a cup of coffee, 115 milligrams.

Does it cause cavities?

Chocolate contributes little to tooth decay. Plain chocolate, though sugary, is not sticky and clears out of the mouth quickly. In addition, it contains substances that may inhibit the bacterial growth that promotes plaque formation and thus cavities. However, many chocolate products contain sticky, sugary ingredients, which do promote tooth decay.

Is chocolate addictive?

About 40% of women and 15% of men may term themselves "chocoholics," but chocolate is not addictive in the same sense as nicotine. Many people crave it, possibly because it contains small amounts of caffeine and a few other potentially mood-improving chemicals. But the cravings as well as the good feelings may well arise from the sweetness, aroma, and melt-in-your-mouth quality. There’s a difference between being addicted to something and just liking it a lot.

Does chocolate cause acne?

Directly, chocolate does not cause acne. However, the sugars of chocolate products may increase yeast (candida) in the body which in turn may exacerbate acne.

Does it contain high levels of lead and other harmful metals?

No. A California group recently tried to sue some chocolate manufacturers on the grounds that chocolate contains heavy metals, but the case was dismissed after an investigation by the California Attorney General and never went to trial.


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