Chocolate: Good or Bad
Chocolate is actually a very ancient food source, used in the tropical rainforests of the American continents as a hot beverage derived from the seeds of the cacao tree. Both the Maya and the Aztecs of Central America were some of the earliest civilizations to make note of their chocolate consumption. Rather than going for the sweet treat that is loved and embraced by the modern world, these ancient peoples would mix ground up cacao seeds with spicy seasonings to make a frothy, warm drink. The story of how chocolate went from this random beginning to being the monumental sweet of today is a long one, but its multiple uses and presence all over the world is far more interesting. Lately people having been trying to figure out if this sinful treat is good or bad for you in a health sense. The truth is that it is probably a little of both, but many individuals like to take sides on the debate to start their own pro-chocolate or anti-chocolate factions. The choice is ultimately up to you!
Negative Health Effects of Chocolate
What’s so bad about chocolate? Well, like most foods it is not exactly the chocolate itself that causes the problems but the source of the chocolate and of course its quantities. Theobromine is the bitter yet intense alkaloid that is found in the cacao plant (and a few others such as the cola nut) which is similar in its effects to that of caffeine. While humans can process theobromine, we know that some animals do not have sufficient capacity to metabolize it, making chocolate quite toxic to these select creatures. This should be cue enough for mankind to note that perhaps chocolate might not be “all that.”
The problem with a type of poisoning in humans coming from chocolate is actually lead based instead. Chocolate is one of the higher lead concentrated items in the typical Westerner’s diet. It has the potential to cause mild lead poisoning, leading to possible issues with a child’s developing brain function or even permanent neurological deficits. The bean of the cacao plant absorbs very little lead but lead tends to bind to the shells of the bean quite often, causing cross-contamination during the manufacturing process. The Food and Drug Association (FDA) of the United States lowered the limit on lead permissible in candy products in 2006, but it was passed as a loose guideline which makes it a completely voluntary regulation.
Yet, the most common negative effect of chocolate on human beings are obesity related illnesses and complications. Chocolate is very addictive as a fun pick me up snack and extremely high in sugar and calorie content. Eating a lot of it without taking into account the additional exercise needed to burn off all those calories can cause problems very fast. Scientists are also investigating the idea that chocolate might mess with certain biomarkers of cardiovascular disease in people who are already genetically predisposed to have those heart related illnesses also the fact that obesity in general tends to lead to cardiovascular disease. Eating a large amount of milk or white chocolate (or even dark chocolate that is mixed with fat containing milk as a drinkable treat) have problems of their own if consumed frequently in big amounts as they can counteract any possible benefits one might get from modest portions of dark chocolate like the ones listed below.
Possible Health Benefits of Chocolate
Scientists have looked into the health benefits of chocolate extensively during the modern research age. Multiple uses of chocolate have been discovered to be beneficial on some level to the human body and general health.
One of the most popular and widely known uses of chocolate in terms of improving the human condition involves people who suffer from migraine headaches. While migraines in general are still somewhat of a mystery and not completely understood, research has figured out that increased intake of chocolate helps to enhance the production and expression of a certain type of enzyme which then can lower the amount of inflammatory chemicals in the brain. With less of these chemicals floating around in someone’s head, migraine symptoms can be alleviated since inflammation of blood vessels in the head is still considered the most likely and main contributor of migraines.
Also, recent studies have shown evidence that dark chocolate (with high concentrations of the cacao plant) acts as a very powerful antioxidant that can result in modest reductions in one’s blood pressure and flow mediated dilation in the veins themselves when a small amount of the dark chocolate is consumed daily. Chocolate is very rich in phenolics (like the flavonoids or the catechins) which are some of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature. Researchers are currently looking into synthetically produced cacao flavonoid molecules to be the basis of new types of prescription drugs that show promise in treating diabetes, diarrhea issues, and even mental decline from diseases like dementia.
To add even more to the appeal of dark chocolate, it may even help in lowering someone’s possibility of having a heart attack when the person eats a small portioned amount of dark chocolate on a regular basis. Dark chocolate and raw cacao might even lower LDL cholesterol levels if one finds the right balance for his or her body according to several new studies. In 2009 a study produced in Stockholm showed that the benefit of eating dark chocolate in small amounts two to three times a week in patients who had previously suffered a heart attack lowered their risk factor of dying during another heart attack significantly when compared to survivors of heart attacks who did not eat chocolate. The study found that these amazing gains in the area of heart health were specific to dark chocolate alone rather than linked to any other sweet treats.
Feeling a little worn out after a long time exercising or playing sports? Consumption of low fat chocolate milk after these physically challenging events (during the vital two hour window) provides at least equal and quite possibly even superior benefits for muscle recovery when compared to other high carbohydrate recovery drinks of the same amount of calories. Athletes who drank the chocolate milk rather than another popular high carb beverage even had lower levels of creatine kinase in their blood which indicated the chocolate drinkers had less muscle damage.
The Basic Point Made By the Debate
Just like with all medications, herbal supplements, and dietary vitamins chocolate has both an upside and a downside. Dark chocolate is clearly better than milk chocolate or white chocolate since it has more concentrated cacao. However, there truly is a limit where you can have too much of a good thing. A nibble or two of a small dark chocolate square regularly throughout the week can help your heart, reduce migraine symptoms, and help with blood pressure. You simply have to remember that you cannot cross the line into “too much” where you get obesity issues like cardiovascular disease or high levels of cholesterol because eating a lot of chocolate (even the amazing dark chocolate variety) is almost like the cliché of “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.”