Chocolate: Don’t Believe The Hype
Everything Is Open To Interpretation
It’s a sad day when you don’t know how to feel about chocolate any more. My newsfeed has been a mess of contradiction lately following the release of a study examining the connection between consumption of chocolate and occurrence of atrial fibrillation (heart flutter). Having recently published an article on the iHeart blog that makes mention of cocoa's flavonol (antioxidant) content and how it can beneficially affect circulation, I felt the need to clarify my stance on chocolate as a health food.
While nothing in this article should be considered medical advice—that’s the point here: Don't rely on taking medical advice from the internet!—it will hopefully add some context to the issue and inspire you to do some further research for yourself.
The Heart Of The Matter
Cocoa is known to contain a high volume of flavonols, a nutrient found in plants and fruits that boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. Consumption of cocoa can contribute to your health in a number of ways including improved circulation, lower blood pressure, and increased protection from the sun for your skin.
Popular Science published an article in the wake of the study that reminds us, however, that “Chocolate is not a super food: It’s time to appreciate our candy for what it is, not what we want it to be.” While there are certain health benefits to eating cocoa, it’s important to remember that the forms in which we primarily eat it—namely chocolate bars—are loaded with sugar and other ingredients which are perhaps not so reflective of a balanced diet.
Articles from Boston Globe (Sweet science: Harvard study suggests chocolate may reduce hear disease risk) and Market Watch (Eating chocolate may be good for your heart (and your relationship)) require a bit more reading than their titles may suggest. The former, which references chocolate chip cookies and Hershey’s Kisses, appears to encourage regular consumption of these sugary treats:
"Feeling guilty about those chocolate chip cookies at lunch? Think again! Those delicious morsels might be lowering your risk of atrial fibrillation, a heart condition linked to stroke and heart flutter."
9Coach, an Australia-based health news site, also opts for a catchy title (Any excuse to eat chocolate: it's good for your heart, study finds), but makes a point of highlighting some of the variables in the study:
"The study has several other limitations—for starters, it's observational, meaning it only observes a link between chocolate consumption and heart health rather than proving the former directly causes the latter.
"An editorial on the study penned by US scientists also points out that the chocolate eaters in the study were generally healthy and well-educated (a factor associated with good health); and that chocolate recipes vary around the world, so the effect could be different in other countries."
Elizabeth Mostofsky, lead author of the study said, “We’re seeing some real health benefits from eating cocoa. Obviously, eating too much poses other risks, but chocolate, in moderation, can be part of a healthy diet.”
So Where Does That Leave Me?
There’s a lot more that could be said about this apparently contentious subject, but the purpose here is not to discredit any one article so much as to encourage readers to do thorough research before assuming a standpoint. And that’s the beauty of iHeart…
iHeart is a completely personal tool that can be used to see how certain foods and activities affect your own individual health. Every person is different and there is no blanket rule that can be applied to each one of us. iHeart gives you the power to see exactly what works for you so that you can maximize the impact of the lifestyle choices you make every day.
For those of you in need of a jumping off point for your chocolate adventures, Mother Nature Network published this list of 5 recipes that enable getting raw cocoa into your diet so you can reap its nutritional rewards in a healthy way. My personal favourite: Sugar-free black bean fudge!