According to a new study, women who eat chocolate daily have an overall bone density 3.1 percent lower than those who consume it less than once a week. More than 1,000 women aged 70-85 were asked to keep a diary of how often they consumed chocolate or cocoa-based drinks.
The researchers did not distinguish between types of chocolate consumed.
Even though chocolate contains flavonols and calcium, both of which are linked to a positive effect on bone density, it also contains oxalate, an inhibitor of calcium absorption, and sugar, which is linked to calcium excretion.
This study comes less than a month after British medical journal the Lancet warned consumers that manufacturers usually remove the healthy element -- the flavonols.
Despite the fact that this research study dims the lights on the potential health benefits of ALL chocolate, it is important to make a distinction between the type of chocolate consumed.
Regular Mercola.com readers will, of course, already know that the processing chocolate undergoes, and the amount of sugar it contains, makes a huge difference in terms of whether it has health benefits or is just another kind of candy.
The Hidden Danger Lurking in Processed Chocolate
A 2005 study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives found that processed chocolate could be contaminated with extremely high quantities of lead.
However, this was not a new discovery; it had been assumed that cocoa plants were tainted by leaded gasoline. However, a team of researchers found that lead levels in processed chocolate were 60 times higher than could be accounted for by the leaded gasoline theory. Unfortunately, they were unable to pin down whether the additional contamination comes from the shipping, or the manufacturing process itself.
This is a concern, as elevated blood lead levels can produce learning disabilities, and damage your ability to think, plan, organize, and memorize.
Additionally, the standard manufacturing process of milk chocolate destroys about one-quarter to one-half of its flavonoid content, which, as you’ll find out below, is where the health benefits are.
The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Chocolate
Dark, unprocessed chocolate, on the other hand, has been exonerated in several studies as actually having some positive impact on your health.
The flavonols it contains have antioxidant properties that can help protect your body from damaging oxidative stress. It also contains far less sugar than its processed milk chocolate counterpart.
There’s evidence that consumption of dark chocolate can improve your:
The concentration of flavonols in any chocolate depends on:
- The flavanol content of the cocoa plant it is derived from
- The procedures used to transform the cocoa into chocolate
Dark chocolate contains a relatively high concentration of flavonols, and researchers believe that the regulation of nitric oxide production by the flavonols found in dark chocolate could explain its positive effects on insulin sensitivity and blood pressure.
Adding milk to the process, however (to create the milk chocolate bars you find in most grocery stores), cancels out the beneficial antioxidant effects. In fact, researchers suggest proteins in the milk bind with antioxidants, making them less easily absorbed by your body. That’s not surprising, considering how pasteurized milk affects you.
What Can Chocolate Cravings Tell You?
If you’re consistently craving sweets, you’re most likely not eating the correct balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for your nutritional type.
Once you get most of the sugar out of your diet, your desire for commercially made sweets, including chocolate, WILL change dramatically.
If you tend to crave chocolate when you are upset, bored, or lonely, then you could benefit from resolving these underlying emotional issues (and we all have them) that are driving you to seek comfort from chocolate.
How to Eat Chocolate Without Destroying Your Health
I think it's important to keep in mind that you can derive a majority of these antioxidant benefits by consuming whole unprocessed, preferably organic fruits like blueberries, apples, and grapes, and most vegetables, including broccoli, greens, and onions. This is obviously to be preferred over eating chocolate.
But, if you can’t imagine life without chocolate, these common sense tips can help you indulge safely:
- Restrict your intake to dark, organic chocolate, which contains the most flavonols, and avoids dangerous processing procedures. The best would be raw cacao, which is relatively bitter because it doesn’t have sugar in it
- Consume chocolate in moderation
- Hold off on chocolate if you are struggling with serious disease -- remember that all chocolate contains lots of sugar, which depresses your immune system