The Sweet Benefits of Chocolate

(December 2009)

The use of chocolate, both as a food and as a medicine, dates back more than 2,000 years to Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Although now generally thought of as a delicious treat, cocoa has been used traditionally to treat fatigue, weight loss, fever, chest pain, anemia, shortness of breath, and kidney and bowel complaints. There is growing evidence to suggest that the historical use of cocoa as a medicine has some scientific validity.

Valuable Components of Chocolate

There are more than 300 naturally occurring chemicals found in chocolate. It is a rich source of magnesium and phosphorus, and also contains flavonoids and antioxidants. Diets high in flavonoids have been linked to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, and diabetes. Specifically, flavonoids decrease LDL cholesterol ('bad' cholesterol), regulate the inflammatory response, decrease the likelihood of clotting (which can cause a stroke or heart attack), and improve vascular tone, thus helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Chocolate is also found to contain potent antioxidants called 'phenols', which are also found in red wine. Cocoa phenols have similar beneficial cardiovascular effects to flavonoids. The 'darker' the chocolate, the higher the phenol content, and the greater the health benefit. The antioxidant capacity of 1 serving of 70 percent dark chocolate (37 grams) is equal to 3 cups of tea, 2 glasses of red wine or 1 1/3 cups of blueberries.

Chocolate also contains cocoa butter, a fat that is partially composed of stearic acid and oleic acid. These acids have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol levels. The percentage label on dark chocolate refers to the amount of cocoa butter in the chocolate, relative to other ingredients such as milk and sugar. Dark chocolates contain 70 percent cocoa butter, whereas most candy bars contain only 20 percent cocoa butter. Thus, choosing a darker chocolate is actually better for you.

In addition to the health benefits already noted, a Yale University study showed that a single dose of 22 grams of cocoa powder decreased blood pressure in overweight adults. Another study showed that pregnant women who consumed five or more servings of chocolate per week had a lower risk of developing preeclampsia.

Despite the health benefits of consuming chocolate, there is a downside to consider. Chocolate can cause headaches, acne, allergies, dental cavities, kidney stones, and increase premenstrual syndrome in some people. It is often high in calories and contains 10% of the caffeine found in a 12 ounce cup of coffee. As with most foods, it is important to practice moderation when consuming chocolate.

During the holiday season, there is always the temptation to over-indulge in sweets and treats. This year you can ease some of the guilt by replacing your milk chocolate with dark chocolate, in moderation, to satisfy that sweet tooth and give your body a boost!

The Raby Institute recommends Vosges Haut Chocolates for local, organic, dark chocolate treats. Visit their website:

Contributed by Michelle Rogers, ND, MS
The focus of integrative medicine is to restore this natural balance through the blending of conventional and ancient healing techniques.