Is Chocolate Good For You?

Author: Gemma Shelton   Date Posted:8 March 2016 

With Easter around the corner, the good old-fashioned Easter egg dominates our supermarkets, pantries and for most of us, it will take its final resting place in our bellies. The chocolate Easter egg was first made in the early 19th century and has since evolved into an exciting yearly tradition reaching young and old alike. Aside from Easter, we often associate chocolate with pleasure, enjoyment and even love!

On a global scale we consumed a whopping 7.2 million tons of chocolate in 2009, likely attributed to its sweet taste and highly palatable qualities. The high carbohydrate and high fat content of chocolate has meant it is often associated with guilt in some individuals.

However, we have good news for the chocoholics out there! Recent research published in the journal Appetite, found an association between regular chocolate intake and cognitive function. Individuals who consumed chocolate at least once per week had significantly higher cognitive scores compared to those who never or rarely consumed chocolate. Better cognitive function included stronger working memory, spatial organisation and reasoning skills.

The study also found women ate chocolate more frequently than men (no surprises here…)! But before reaching for the family-size block of chocolate, you may want to err on the side of caution when it comes to this research. Firstly an association is not a direct link, which means the study didn't confirm that chocolate consumption directly improved cognitive function.

The chocolate consumers also ate a better diet with more daily servings of meat, vegetables and dairy foods, as well as consuming less alcohol. This indicates those with higher cognitive scores may have had better diets overall, regardless of the amount of chocolate they consumed. The study didn’t differentiate whether the chocolate was white, milk or dark.

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Not all chocolate is created equal.

The type of chocolate will dictate the amount of sugar, fat, as well as the concentration of cocoa. The cocoa concentration in milk chocolate is around 7-15%, whereas in dark chocolate it is more than double, ranging from 30-70%. When it comes to the reported chocolate-cognition relationship, a number of studies support the role of cacao flavonoids.

Chocolate is a known source of cacao flavonoids, as well as other components including methylxanthines, caffeine, and theobromine, all of which are associated with improved mental alertness and cognitive function. Other proposed health benefits of chocolate include supporting cardiovascular health, which have been attributed to cacao’s antioxidant, vasodilatory and anti-inflammatory actions.

When it comes to optimising the health benefits associated with chocolate, it is important to be picky.

  • The higher the cocoa/cacao content, the better - Aim for 70%+
  • Seek out cacao over cocoa (if possible) - It is usually higher in overall nutritional value
  • Be mindful of the amount of sugar - If it’s too high, it may offset the health benefits associated with cocoa/cacao.
  • Consume in moderation -  To ensure appropriate kilojoule intake and avoid unwanted weight gain.

With these tips in mind, try enjoying chocolate guilt-free this Easter and best when consumed in the context of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.

Is Chocolate Good for you?

Written by Gemma Shelton, Naturopath

Gemma BHSc (Naturopathy); BA (Public Communication & International Studies); is a qualified naturopath and believes in the importance of a balanced lifestyle. She places emphasis on eating nutritious foods, without depriving yourself of the occasional treat. Gemma spent some time living in Japan where she was immersed in traditional diet and kampo medicine (Japanese herbal medicine), and an interest in natural medicine was sparked. She holds a degree in Health Science majoring in Naturopathy, and previous experience consulting in nutrition communications. Gemma loves the sunshine, good quality chocolate and herbal teas.