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Science Explains: The bittersweet truth behind chocolate

As we say goodbye to Easter, having seen the amount of chocolate eaten by the nation increase dramatically, questions about the effects of eating too much chocolate arise. Throughout the years, there have been many claims of chocolate being both good and bad for you, and the higher percentage of cocoa solids (the darker the chocolate), the better it is for you.

But what is the truth behind the myths?

CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR YOU 

In a 2016 study, researchers at various institutions – the Luxembourg Institute of Health, the University of South Australia, the University of Maine and the University of Warwick Medical School – found that eating 100g of chocolate a day reduced insulin resistance whilst also improving liver enzymes.

Flavanols, a specific group of bioactives which are present in many types of fruit, are abundant in cocoa. Flavanols are linked to reduced blood pressure and the promotion of a healthy blood flow. The study which suggested that eating chocolate can help to reduce blood pressure involved participants getting around 670 milligrams of flavanols. However, you could not get this amount from the chocolate that you can buy. To receive this amount, you would need to eat 12 standard bars (100g) of dark chocolate or 50 bars of milk.

Eating 100g of chocolate a day reduced insulin resistance whilst also improving liver enzymes

Some specially processed dark chocolate, along with cocoa extracts and drinks, which contain 200 milligrams of flavanols, can contribute to normal blood circulation due to maintaining blood vessel elasticity. This has been approved by the European Food Safety Authority.

Journal Heart has discovered, through a study in Denmark, that eating chocolate regularly – one serving a week for women and between two and six for men, where one serving is equivalent to 30 grams – may lower the risk of heart rhythm irregularly atrial fibrillation (heart flutter). It is particularly true of dark chocolate, but the most common chocolate eaten in Denmark is milk chocolate with 30% cocoa solids.

Eating chocolate regularly – one serving a week for women and between two and six for men, may lower the risk of heart rhythm irregularly atrial fibrillation

CHOCOLATE CAUSES ACNE

There is a common myth that chocolate is the cause of acne. There is no scientific evidence that chocolate itself causes acne. However, a high-sugar or high-fat diet can cause skin to become oily, due to mass sebum production (the glands in the skin which secrete oil). Excessive oil can lead to acne as oil can clog pores combining with dead skin cells. If chocolate is eaten in moderation with a healthy diet, chocolate is not likely to cause acne. So, as they say, “Be treatwise.”

Eating too much chocolate and not enough other types of food can replace the nutrients in your body which your skin needs. So, although we cannot say chocolate directly causes acne, in excess, it can be a contributor.

A high-sugar or high-fat diet can cause skin to become oily, due to mass sebum production

For some people, the dairy and sugar in chocolate can trigger hormonal changes, which may cause inflammation and therefore acne in people prone to the condition. Therefore, eating too much milk or white chocolate, the types which contain the most milk and sugar, can trigger spot-prone skin.

Many women enjoy eating chocolate around the time of their pre-menstrual cycle, also known as PMS, and therefore the consumption of chocolate can be confused with naturally occurring hormone changes which can also cause acne.

Eating too much milk or white chocolate, the types which contain the most milk and sugar, can trigger spot-prone skin

DARK CHOCOLATE IS BETTER FOR YOU 

Because of the higher percentage of cocoa solids, dark chocolate often has less added sugar and milk. This high cocoa content also means that there are high levels of chemicals which act as antioxidants (catechin and procyanidin). Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals, which are uncharged molecules and usually highly reactive. Free radicals attack DNA and are linked to cancer.

Dark chocolate contains polyphenols (the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the higher the polyphenol content) which prevent bacteria and other organisms from overgrowing in the mouth. The polyphenols prevent some of the sugars from becoming acid. This acid can cause tooth decay and destroy the enamel of your teeth.

High cocoa content also means that there are high levels of chemicals which act as antioxidants 

Therefore, the evidence suggests that eating dark chocolate in moderation is not too bad for you. It isn’t the chocolate (cocoa) in chocolate which causes the problems that it is accused of – teeth cavities, decay and acne. It is the milk and sugar of the milk and white chocolate which cause more of the problems.

 

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