DARK CHOCOLATE, the GOOD, BAD and the UGLY
Contains flavanols-called CATECHINS which have anti-oxidant properties that fight against free radical damage to our cells, they also have additional benefits on cholesterol levels (raise HDL), decrease blood pressure and increase blood flow. Additionally, they decrease fasting blood sugars, increase memory, cognition, and elasticity of skin.
EXERCISE benefits are statistically significant, but a small study. 40grams of dark chocolate had a 17% increase in the distance participants could cycle in 2 minutes and reduced the oxygen cost of the exercise. The theory is that the epicatechins (flavanols) dilate the blood vessels by triggering nitrous oxide production, which increases blood flow.
Catechins are also found in apples, grapes and teas
Therapeutic dosage is from 200-900mg daily
Different forms can be consumed: Cocoa powder, dark chocolate bar, extract, nibs or supplements
IRON– decent source, about 1-2 mg in a tablespoon of cocoa powder, or 3mg in a 40gm (1.5oz) serving of dark chocolate. When consuming plant derived sources of iron, pair it with a food high in vitamin C, like strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and oranges
Dark chocolate, and cocoa powder are high in unhealthy fats and calories, consume low amounts and in moderation
Cocoa powder contains cocoa solids (what remains after cocoa butter is taken out); dark chocolate contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter contains saturated fat, about 65% and the rest is unsaturated fat.
Cocoa butter is void in flavanols
The unsaturated fat contains, oleic acid (monounsaturated fat)and linoleic acid (polyunsaturated fat). Both have beneficial properties; anti-inflammatory, decrease LDL cholesterol, and good for brain health.
The saturated fat contains palmitic acid and steric acid
Palmitic acid is linked to increasing LDL cholesterol levels
Steric Acid has a neutral effect on cholesterol, doesn’t raise or lower it
Caffeine and theobromine which may cause side effects such as; heartburn, gastritis, insomnia, anxiety and heart arrhythmias. GI side effects are more prevalent in cocoa extract on an empty stomach. Drug nutrient reaction is found in stimulant drugs and MAO inhibitors.
Good, theobromine was found in some studies to lower blood sugar levels and decrease LDL cholesterol. However people with blood sugar issues should still limit the amount of dark chocolate they consume to 1-2 times per week
Migraine trigger-cocoa and chocolate have been reported to trigger migraines because they contain amino acids tyramine and phenylethylamine which were both found in other foods that trigger migraines. The evidence is mixed in the studies, and seems to be individual.
Heavy metals and carcinogens are abundant in many chocolate products. The most common heavy metal is Cadmium. Most of the Cacao from South America is contaminated with this heavy metal found in the soil (contaimenated). Chocolate from Africa tends to have very little cadmium.
Cadmium is a carcinogen (cancer causing agent) and toxic to kidneys, and effect bone health and found to effect fetal development.
Tolerable limits are 25mcg/day
California has a limit of 4.1 mcg/day, Canada 6mcg/day
U.S. government hasn’t set a limit, The European Union has proposed limiting cadmium in cocoa and chocolate products and would give companies to 2019 to comply. Their guidelines are 0.3mcg/gram of chocolate over 50% cacao, most dark chocolate is 0.8
The chocolates that had the most cadmium: Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Bar 85% Cacao- 0.73mcg cadmium. Dove, Equal exchange, Green & Blacks and Moser Roth all were above the California limits. Ghirardelli (72% Cacao) was right at limit but not above.
Lead was found in small amounts of cocoa product, 1-1.5mcg/daily serving. California’s limit is 0.5mcg per daily servings.
Acrylamide is abundant in cocoa and chocolate products because the processing requires the beans to be roasted. It is the process of browning the bean that creates the compound acrylamide, a neurotoxin and carcinogen. It is best to minimize the amount you consume.
California recommends to no more than 0.2mcg of acrylamide per day
Servings are 5grams of Cocoa and 1.5oz. of Dark Chocolate
Hershey’s Cocoa =4.5mcg, Hershey’s European Style Dutch Processed Cocoa =0.29, Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa 1.58mcg
Ghirardelli Bittersweet chocolate baker bar= 3.7mcg, Hershey’s milk chocolate bar Not detectable
WHAT TO DO?
You get the most flavanols and the least amount of contamination from supplements made from cocoa extracts. The best one so far with the most flavanols is CocaoVia Capsules = 452.2mg of flavanols in a daily serving of 3 capsules. Choose the products below for the safest and most potent amount of flavanols.
Safest Dark Chocolate bars with the greatest amount of flavanols and the least amount of containments: Endangered Species Dark chocolate with 88% Cacao (also lower in calories relative to other bars), Bakers Unsweetened chocolate bar 100% Cacao, Lindt Excellence 90%Cocoa Supreme Dark, Ghirardelli Intense Dark 86% Cocao, Trader Joe’s 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate close to the California limit. Lily’s Dark Chocoalte stevia sweetnened 55% Cocoa and Hershey’s Special Dark both free of Cadmium, but low levels of flavanols.
Cocoa Powder: Ghirardelii 100% unsweetened Cocoa but LEAD 1.4mcg per 6g serving! Most Cocoa powder has large amounts of cadmium in it. If you use it, use it sparingly. Cacao Nibs: Navitias Naturals Cacao Nibs at the limit of Cadmium for California, Earth Circle Organics Balinese Cacao Nibs just shy of the limit. Cacao and Cacao Supplements: CocoaVia Capsules, Reserveage CocoaWell True Energy, CocoaVia Powder, Cacao by Advanced Physicians Formulas
Enjoy DARK CHOCOLATE in MODERATION, 1ounce per day for health.
Melissa A. Mathes, MPH, RDN, CSSD
2017 Dec 15;605-606:792-800. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.06.122. Epub 2017 Jul 3.
Environ Pollut. Cadmium bioaccumulation and gastric bioaccessibility in cacao: A field study in areas impacted by oil activities in Ecuador2017 Oct;229:950-963. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.07.080. Epub 2017 Aug 3..
Patel, J international Soc sports Nutrition 2015
Consumer Labs updated review on Dark Chocolate 2018