While research is not conclusive, there seems to be growing evidence that chocolate and cocoa contain beneficial polyphenols, including the type called flavonoids. Polyphenol compounds act as antioxidants and protect the body against disease and the damage caused by free radicals.
A 1.5-ounce chocolate bar contains about the same amount of total phenolic compounds as a 5-ounce glass of red wine. However, research also shows that the quality and quantity of antioxidants in chocolate is very high relative to red wine and other common foods and beverages such as tea, apples, oranges and various vegetables.
In addition, pure cocoa contains more than 30 organic compounds, including many beneficial minerals such as fluoride, potassium and magnesium. These minerals are important to good health since fluoride protects the bone structure supporting teeth, potassium contributes to a healthy nervous system and a regular heart rhythm, and magnesium is a vital catalyst in enzyme activity and energy production, and assists calcium and potassium absorption.
Other research seems to indicate that the antioxidants in real chocolate may play a role in heart health. Research seems to show that consumption of flavonoid-rich cocoa beverages may inhibit platelet activity, increase the time for blood to clot, and help prevent inflammation of blood vessels. It also influences the modulation of nitric oxide, which exerts protective properties that are essential for good cardiovascular functioning. These antioxidants may also help increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels and protect against oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a process that normally leads to artery-clogging plaques. The amount of chocolate needed to achieve these health benefits are still being evaluated.
But is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and obesity, or chocolate consumption and diabetes? Current research indicates that there is no single food that causes obesity, as well as shows obese persons do not eat more chocolate than thin persons. Nor is chocolate a major contributor to the fat or sugar content of an adult diet.
For diabetics, eating chocolate is no longer frowned upon when it’s eaten in small amounts. The sugar in chocolate is absorbed slowly, giving the body more time to manage the rise in blood glucose. Chocolate eaten after a meal is preferable for diabetics since this also helps to slow the absorption of sugar.
Even without conclusive scientific evidence in these areas, chocolate is still intended to bring pleasure to life. If chocolate also proves to contribute useful nutrients to a balanced, healthful diet, so much the better.