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Self Care Pharmacy Blog

 

Darker Isn’t Always Better

October 29th, 2015

By: Maame Debrah-Pinamang, PharmD Student

ChocolateFor years, the scientific world has been shouting to the masses about the benefits of eating dark chocolate. The health benefits of dark chocolate have been extensively studied to provide us with the knowledge that habitual consumption of dark chocolate will lead to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, raise your high density lipoprotein levels (good cholesterol), as well as provide antioxidant properties to keep you looking younger, longer.1 Evidence such as this has led people to choose dark chocolate over regular milk chocolate. What if that’s not necessarily the case? Recently, there was an article stating that milk chocolate provides the same benefits of dark chocolate, as well as an increase in research on what the health benefits of dark chocolate come from, and whether the heart benefits that dark chocolate has is present in other types of chocolate.2 Besides color and taste, there is very little difference between dark and milk chocolate. Different companies include different levels of sugar and cocoa powder in their formulations, although the FDA sets standards for what cocoa levels constitute each type of chocolate. In order to be considered milk chocolate, the piece of chocolate must not contain less than 10% chocolate liquor, and at least 12% milk ingredients. For dark chocolate, the required amount of chocolate liquor is greater than or equal to 35%.3

A recent study analyzed the chocolate consumption of over 20,000 people for a period of 11 years, on average. Participants consumed a median of 4.6 grams (about 1.25 individual squares on a standard bar of Hershey’s chocolate) of chocolate per day, and had their cardiovascular health assessed.4 The data used in the first study looked at the effects on HDL and LDL with the participants self-reporting their consumption of chocolate. Participants that consumed a higher amount of chocolate had an increase in cardiovascular health, a lower body mass index (BMI), as well as lower blood pressure. However, the self-reporting of chocolate consumption leads to errors in reporting and inconsistent measurements. The study also failed to report the specific type of chocolate the participants consumed, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the reduced health risks. In order to produce a more reliable study, the researchers should have produced a specified amount of chocolate to each participant as well as recording the specific kind of chocolate.

Of the more common types of chocolate, dark chocolate is more extensively studied for the benefits that it may provide, but that kind of chocolate may be irrelevant. In a similarly conducted study in Japan, researchers gave participants 13, 19.5, and 26 grams of chocolate per day.5 Similar to the first study, those who ate more chocolate saw a greater increase in cardiovascular health. Those who ate at least 13 grams of chocolate per day found approximately 3.23 mmol/L decrease in LDL cholesterol. Some limitations of the study was that the study participants were given cocoa powder, which is not readily available to most people, as well as the cocoa powder being added to hot water, and not taken as a piece of chocolate that is easily available to all people.

In order to gain all the heart benefits of chocolate, each person should attempt to get approximately 1.5 grams of chocolate per day. Although a consistent consumption of chocolate could provide an increase in heart health, the benefits may not apply to everyone. Different health conditions may not allow for self-care with chocolate consumption. Given the results of the research, it is inconclusive that the impact of dark chocolate on heart health is greater than milk chocolate. The studies performed in the articles allow a safe assumption that either kind of chocolate would provide the same benefits.  The health benefits stemming from cocoa powder and not from the color of the chocolate allow for a greater range of chocolate that will provide heart healthy benefits. The recommended daily amount of chocolate from The Cleveland Clinic Wellness is 1.5 to 3 ounces to ensure maximum heart benefits from chocolate (Godiva sells chocolate in 1.5 ounce size).6 The small amount of chocolate provides us with right correct amount of chocolate to ensure heart health, without the excess sugar that comes with eating too much chocolate. Although it is important to take self-care measures to reduce your risk of heart disease, do not rely solely on chocolate as your cardiologist. Before beginning any self-care regimens, contact your primary care provider to ensure that the measures you are starting are safe and the best options for your needs.

 

References

  1. Kwok, C. S. et al. Habitual Chocolate Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Among Healthy Men and Women. British Medical Journal. 2015.
  2. Wanjek, Christopher. “Even Milk Chocolate is Good for you, According to new Study” Huffington Post. June 16, 2015. Accessed October 14, 2015.
  3. Hershey’s. Types of Chocolate. Available at: http://web.archive.org/web/20090126124820/http://hersheys.com/nutrition/chocolate.asp Accessed October 28, 2015.
  4. Smit, H. J., Gaffan, E. A., Rogers, P.J. Methylxanthines are the psycho-o Kondo. pharmacologically active constituents of chocolate. 2004; (176)3-4:412-19.
  5. Baba, S, et al. Plasma LDL and HDL Cholesterol and Oxidized LDL Concentrations Are Altered in Normo- and Hypercholesterolemic Humans after Intake of Different Levels of Cocoa Powder. The Journal of Nutrition. 2007;137(6): 1436-1441.
  6. Cleveland Clinic Wellness. Eating Chocolate can be Healthy. Available at: http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/Promos/Pages/Chocolate.aspx#. Accessed October 28, 2015.

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12 Responses to “Darker Isn’t Always Better”

  1. Myriam Says:

    There is a higher percentage of cocoa solids in dark chocolate. Could this have previously motivated researchers to claim that dark chocolate has more benefits?

  2. Lia G Hickinbotham Says:

    Would eating the 1.5 grams of chocolate per day count as white chocolate as well? Since you only discussed milk chocolate and dark chocolate, I wan’t sure if there has been any information on if white chocolate can help with heart health benefits.

  3. Aaron J Oliver Says:

    Would adding nuts or other ingredients to chocolate help or hinder the benefits that chocolate has on the heart?

  4. Micah Bernard Says:

    Interesting article, Maa!
    I had never heard that milk chocolate could provide health benefits. Perhaps we always here about dark chocolate because it has more of the beneficial cocoa in it, like Myriam pointed out. Also, I wonder if the higher concentration of sugar/fat in milk chocolate might outweigh the benefits of the cocoa?

  5. Vineeta Rao Says:

    I was thinking the same thing as Micah – my guess would be that the higher sugar and milk ratios in milk chocolate would lead researchers to recommend dark chocolate over milk chocolate. However, it is really interesting to know that there is not much clinical evidence that dark chocolate has any more benefits than milk chocolate!

    Would “chocolate self-treatment” have to be limited to a certain amount per day? I would think that going over the amounts in the study population could backfire on the effects that chocolate would have on cardiovascular health!

    Also, I had never thought about the fact that clinical studies would be used to discover the benefits of chocolate! Sign me up for the next chocolate study! 🙂

  6. Monica Saad Says:

    Lia, since white chocolate does not contain any cocoa powder, I do not think it could apply to this study or give the same kind of results as milk or dark chocolate.
    But this is insightful because I always believed that dark chocolate was better for you!

  7. Casey A Nelson Says:

    Maa, I was presently surprised with this as I have always thought that dark chocolate provided the most health benefits. If I had to pick between the two types I would go with milk chocolate, and I think it is cool that there have been health benefits linked to either type of chocolate. I do not know much about chocolate, but was there anything reported about white chocolate? I have never heard of any benefits from that type of chocolate.

  8. Ahlin-Joel M Sanvee Says:

    I enjoy reading your article because of the many controversies and articles that exist about white and dark chocolate. I believe that all type of chocolate are healthy as long as we consume them in moderation. I sincerely believe that both dark and white chocolate are from cocoa plant. My family grow acres of cocoa in Togo. I had a chance since my childhood to taste and eat the raw cocoa several times. The color does not make any difference. Good job !

  9. freddie Says:

    Interesting article. So basically the reason one will prefer most of the dark chocolate to milk chocolate is as a results of the ingredients made of. Probably I hope the aim of the manufacturer is not to put more emphasis on dark chocolate and less emphasis of white chocolate. If not, the demand for dark chocolate would be high white chocolate will decrease

  10. Belinda Darkwah Says:

    The prevention of cardiovascular disease hits home for as my mother has had many health issues related to her heart. Some suggestions her cardiologist made were to consume dark chocolate and drink a glass of red wine three times a week. When I read this article, I sent her a copy of the link for her to read about it!

    I wondered the same thing as Vineeta and Micah on whether sugar content played a role in suggestions of dark chocolate. I know that many providers are limiting red wine consumption to three times weekly due to increase dangers as alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents. The old suggestion for red wine was 4 oz a day. I think limiting consumption of any kind of chocolate needs to be defined since there are many sorts of health-related risks to increase sugar consumption. I found it very interesting that consuming foods like chocolate and drinks like red wine can have some positive impact on heart health.

  11. Elizabeth Aziz Says:

    Great article! I am not particularly a dark chocolate consumer but I do eat it from time to time.I enjoy more white chocolate or milk chocolate. I wonder if white chocolate has any health benefit. Also, my question is: how much chocolate a day could one consume that would actually negatively impact their health? So what is the maximum amount until it becomes unhealthy?

  12. Tori Bumgardner Says:

    Very interesting article! I love dark chocolate, so I am very happy to know that all types of chocolate can offer the same health benefits. I thought the comment AJ made about adding nuts to the chocolate was interesting. I found an article that supports the use of nuts to improve cardiovascular health, so I would say the two together would be great! Here is the link for the article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3798927/ or the title of it was “Nutritional Recommendations for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention”

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