I’ve talked about the possible health benefits of dark chocolate before. Research shows that dark chocolate is a good source of copper, magnesium, iron, and potassium that appears to protect the heart and also reduce inflammation in the body. Some studies show eating a small amount of dark chocolate a few times per week may lower blood pressure and improve blood flow throughout the body. Dark chocolate also has phenylethylamine (PEA), which is a chemical that makes you feel happy. So chocolate may even possibly help improve mood.
But many people translate these potential benefits into “if it’s good for you then I should eat it every day and the more the better.” This common reaction to nutrition information often leads to trouble. And this is especially true for chocolate because chocolate has a dark side that many people do not realize. Chocolate and cocoa contain histamines. Histamine is a natural compound that increases in response to allergies, causing symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, etc. Chocolate becomes a problem for people who have allergies and specifically for those with a histamine intolerance.
Chocolate also contains sugar. And while dark chocolate has the lowest amount of sugar, it still contains enough to stress caution about the amount eaten.
Chocolate doesn’t contain as many antioxidants as claimed because most of them are stripped away during processing. Flavanol (also found in tea, red wine, and some fruits and vegetables) is the antioxidant in chocolate that appears to provide the most health benefits. A review of the 12 most common chocolate brands showed most of the flavanol had been stripped out to reduce the bitter taste of the chocolate.
Chocolate is also addicting. Many people often claim they are “addicted to chocolate” and that may not be far from the truth. Chocolate has been found to contain stimulants, derived from caffeine, which can cause a susceptible person to become addicted. And chocolate may affect neurotransmitters, which regulate mood and can cause a dependence.
As if that is not enough of a concern, chocolate may also contain unsafe levels of heavy metals. As You Sow, an environmental group, tested different chocolate products for toxic metal levels. 64% of the chocolates they tested contained toxic amounts of lead or cadmium. This is of particular concern if your body does not remove metals well from your system, causing a buildup of these metals that can contribute to joint pain, kidney problems, heart disease, and more.
So does this mean never eat chocolate? Not necessarily. If you have allergies or a histamine intolerance, are a poor detoxifier, or have a tendency toward addiction, then chocolate should definitely be avoided. For everyone else, 1 to 2 SMALL squares every few days is most likely safe. Although studies do find some health benefits to eating dark chocolate daily, you can also get those benefits from a diet that is primarily vegetable and fruit based without the potential negative side effects.
For information on the As You Sow findings: http://www.asyousow.org/our-work/environmental-health/toxic-enforcement/lead-and-cadmium-in-food/