In today's society, chocolate is everywhere. It seems that people have developed a love-hate relationship with chocolate. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 1997, the average American ate 11.7 pounds of chocolate. American adults ranked chocolate as the most-craved food and as their favorite flavor by a three-to-one margin. (Mustad, 2001)
Throughout the world, exists a society of chocolate lovers. While Americans consume, on average, nearly twelve pounds of chocolate per year, we are not the biggest fans. The British eat 161/2 pounds and the Swiss, the inventors of milk chocolate, consume the most at 22 pounds per person.
However, while people love it, they can't help feeling a pang of guilt when eating it because over the years, chocolate has gotten a "bad rap" as being an unhealthy food. However, recent research is slowly unraveling the hidden truth about chocolate - that it might actually be beneficial to a balanced diet. (Bloom, Mustad)
Despite its name, a typical "milk" chocolate bar provides less than 10% of the daily recommended amount of calcium. But, surprisingly, a government survey shows that chocolate and products containing chocolate make substantial contributions to our daily intake of copper, an essential mineral in the prevention of anemia and, possibly, heart disease and cancer. Chocolate also provides significant amounts of magnesium, which plays a role in regulating blood pressure and building bones. (Edmundson, 1996)
Before examining the possible benefits of chocolate, it is important to understand the myths surrounding the delectable food.
Many people believe that the fat in chocolate will cause high levels of cholesterol in the blood. However, since it is a product of plants, chocolate does not contain cholesterol. It is actually saturated fat that is the culprit of increasing cholesterol in the blood. (Bloom)
Stearic acid, which is the main saturated fat found in chocolate, does not raise blood cholesterol levels. A study in which subjects consumed a 1.4 oz. chocolate bar instead of a high carbohydrate snack revealed that the chocolate bar did not raise low-density lipoprotein levels, known as LDL or "bad cholesterol," but actually increased high-density lipoprotein levels, known as HDL or "good cholesterol."
Many people also look down at chocolate as completely lacking in vitamins and minerals but this is also untrue. When comparing the nutritional values of chocolate milk with regular milk, it is easy to see that chocolate milk has much more sugar than regular milk. Still, it also contains higher levels of zinc, potassium, copper and magnesium. (Steinberg, 2001)
Solid chocolate is a major source of copper, which helps the body use iron and aids in the development of connective tissue, blood vessels, and skin, and magnesium, which is part of the bone structure and plays an important role in the nervous system and in the break down of protein. Another bonus for chocolate milk is that children are more likely to get more of these valued nutrients when offered chocolate milk because they tend to drink two-thirds more chocolate milk vs. plain milk.
Contrary to popular belief, chocolate does not cause acne. In a 1970's study carried out at the University of Missouri, test subjects who believed their acne problems got worse within 36 hours of ingesting the "culprit" food were given the equivalent of 230g of chocolate and then observed every day for the week following. (Steinberg, Bloom)
To the amazement of all, no increases in acne were found in response to the food challenges. In a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Naval Academy, 65 acne sufferers began to consume large amounts of chocolate. 46 showed no change in their condition, 10 got better and nine got worse. This indicates that acne is not related to chocolate consumption. Further studies show that it is related to hormonal changes that create activity of the skin's oil glands.
Additionally, chocolate is not high in caffeine, as many people think. The amount of caffeine in a typical 1.4 oz. bar or an 8 oz. glass of chocolate milk is equivalent to a cup of decaffeinated coffee with 6 mg caffeine. An ounce of bittersweet chocolate has more; from 5-35 mg caffeine and 1 ounce unsweetened baking chocolate has 35 mg. These levels are all well below the 140 mg that is in a cup of brewed coffee. Stimulant effects of caffeine can be initiated after consuming 150-200 mg, but this varies from person to person. (Edmundson)
Almost everybody remembers their parents telling them that chocolate causes cavities. But candy alone does not. Susceptible teeth, dental plaque, and food cause cavities. In fact, chocolate and cocoa have the ability to offset the acid-producing potential of the sugar they contain.
Milk chocolate has a high content of protein, calcium, phosphate and other minerals, which have protective effects on tooth enamel. Also, since it contains fat, milk chocolate clears the mouth relatively faster than other candies, so milk chocolate may be less cavity causing.
There is little evidence that chocolate is addictive, although those craving it would say otherwise. The substances found in chocolate do not appear in high enough amounts to exert any significant influence. The most likely explanation for cravings is psychological or sensory. Researchers have found that chocolate aroma has a powerful calming effect. According to Dr. Neil Martin, a senior lecturer in neuropsychology, the sweet smell "may remind people of certain things that are relaxing - or something could be tapping into the sub-cortical emotional centre." (Vinson, 2001)
Researchers at Dundee University suspect the "craving" is simply due to the deep-rooted pleasure of eating chocolate, a combination of sweet taste and creamy texture. Another possibility is the "naughty but nice" factor many people associate with this delicious snack food. (Vinson, Bloom)
The final basic myth surrounding chocolate is that it makes children hyper. However, both the FDA and 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Sugar and Health support findings that neither chocolate nor sugar causes hyperactivity. It is more likely that the environments in which these foods are served are what cause children to get excited.
Statement of the Problem
Research that portrays chocolate as a healthy food may encourage chocoholics to toss aside their feelings of guilt and indulge to their heart's content. After all, research shows that chocolate is good for the heart. However, many agencies, such as the British Heart Foundation, are arguing that advising people to eat chocolate regularly is a reckless message that should be ignored. A more accurate message would be, according to the British Heart Foundation, to "enjoy a little chocolate in moderation, but ensure you eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily to get all the flavonoids you need without the added fat." (Steinberg)
For example, research has shown that high amounts of flavonoids, which are found in chocolate, may also positively affect mechanisms involved in the maintenance of cardiovascular health. However, this information does not mean that large amounts of chocolate in the diet are going to prevent heart disease.
The purpose of this study is to show that chocolate can be taken off the "guilty foods" list and added to the list of foods that are a part of a healthy diet. But it is important to also show the damaging effects of eating chocolate, which may be downplayed by the newest research promoting chocolate.
For years chocolate has gotten a bad rap for being a guilty indulgence." Seen as a food with a distinctive and tempting flavor that was resisted by health-conscious individuals, this reputation can be seen in the fact that chocolate cake is often called "devil's food." (Coe, 1996)
There are many reasons that chocolate was seen as an unhealthy food. Many health officials labeled chocolate as being associated with fat and refined sugar. It was also said to have high levels of caffeine, and be a contributing factor in a variety of problems, including heart disease and obesity.
This study will show that a lot of chocolate's bad reputation is undeserved. For example, the link between chocolate and disorders, such as obesity and heart disease, is not due to chocolate itself but rather all the high-fat, high-cholesterol butter and cream that is used in chocolate candies and baked goods.
Interestingly, cocoa has actually been used for centuries as an herbal medicine. Central Americans have used cocoa to treat a great variety of things, including fevers, coughs and discomfort associated with pregnancy. There is also evidence that hints that cocoa can be a digestive aid that boosts blood flow to the heart and is useful in helping victims of chest congestion breathe easier. (Young, 1994)
Tests performed by a professor of nutrition and internal medicine on more than 100 volunteers who ate either small amounts of chocolate or who consumed flavonoid-rich cocoa beverages, indicated that the flavonoids in chocolate -- compounds that naturally occur in many fruits and vegetables, but are particularly plentiful in cocoa beans -- confer helpful effects similar to those produced by low doses…