Is chocolate bad for your health?

Food of the gods

Chocolate has had a bad press in recent decades. But this was not always so. Many people, from the Aztecs on, championed the medicinal virtues of drinking chocolate – good, it was said, for longevity, vitality and the libido. In 17th-century England, it was sold by apothecaries. The 18th-century Swedish botanist Linnaeus, when handing out Latin names to the plants of the world, called the cacao tree Theobroma cacao, Theobroma being the Greek for 'food of the gods'.

Recent research has pointed to many benefits of chocolate. It contains numerous beneficial minerals – iron, calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, copper – and a host of vitamins. Like red wine, green tea and blueberries, chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) contains flavonoids, which have been identified as useful antioxidants for combating heart disease and other diseases associated with ageing.

Energy

Chocolate is also a good energy source; a 100-gram bar of dark chocolate can contain 20% of an adult man's daily energy requirement - as soldiers on manoeuvres, mountaineers and Arctic explorers appreciate.

This is also the trouble. Because chocolate is energy-rich, it may provide more energy than the consumer is able to burn off. The result: weight-gain. In addition, it contains a fair amount of saturated fat, which also has implications for weight-watchers and is associated with cholesterol – although much of the fat is in fact stearic acid, which appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol.

Good quality in moderation

Such negative aspects of chocolate are perfectly manageable, if it is consumed in moderate quantities, and especially if it is good-quality dark chocolate (which is richer in all the beneficial goodies and contains less sugar). In addition, the common belief that chocolate causes migraines and acne is not borne out by scientific study.

As many observers say, more damaging to health than the chocolate itself is the guilt that many people needlessly inflict upon themselves when eating it.

For more on the health issues surrounding chocolate, visit: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

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