Newsy Chocolate

May 30, 2017 in Foodland, Health, Health Claims by Joyce Bunderson

Cocoa originated over 5000 years ago in Central America, but it frequently remains in the news today. The latest - chocolate has been linked to a lower risk of AFib (atrial fibrillation); see for yourself - The British Medical Journal – BMJ. Since an estimated 2.7 to 6.1 million people in the United States have AFib, obviously, we’d like to know more about what these Harvard researcher learned about such a pleasant way to reduce risk of AFib.

Claims about health benefits of small amounts of good chocolate are common. By “good chocolate” is generally meant dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Not all publications cite the evidence for the claimed benefits of chocolate as well as in British Medical Journal just cited. For example, consider several health claims for chocolate from the London Telegraph. It rattles off 10 health claims for modest intake of good chocolate. Articles like this put a big research responsibility on the reader not to just jump onto the chocolate bandwagon.

It gnaws at me; I must admit. The question is in the deep recesses of my questioning mind. I’m wondering if the main reason that chocolate stays in the news is that the global market is worth about $98.3 billion – that’s a lot of chocolate – a huge global market. The cacao trees, although originally from Central America are now grown around the world (Still in Central and South America; but now also far flung - the Caribbean; Africa; Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.)

I think for our little nutrition discussion of what else we are risking when we try to lower the risk of AFib, we should understand that the seeds (cocoa beans) of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste when they’re harvested. They’re fermented, dried, cleaned, and roasted; then the shell is removed to produce the cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass – unadulterated chocolate in rough form. The processing continues to chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa solids and, on and on. Wikipedia has a nice concise history of chocolate. But most important of all is to recognize that sugar is added. I know, I don’t need to remind you that sugar has no nutrients, but… I guess that the reason that I want to recognize that sugar is added is that some of you, who like myself, enjoy chocolate, will think: “If a little is good more is better.” That may lead to unrestricted chocolate consumption; and too many empty calories (calories without nutrients), which is associated with diabetes, obesity, and other conditions that the hype in the Telegraph article clams a little chocolate helps improve. Ah; moderation – how greatly failures in moderation upset otherwise healthy or mostly harmless practices.

Although chocolate has some cool flavanols and those flavanols may be doing nice things for our blood vessels, we should remember that the AFib study was done with relatively small amounts of chocolate. Especially pay attention to the part of the study’s report where it tells about “more needs to be done to really know what’s going on.”

One little bit of information, hidden deep in the chocolate article is that cocoa contains oxalate. For those of you, who like me, make the most common type of kidney stones, this is bad news. Calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of kidney stone – representing about 80% of kidney stones. Rats! Too much oxalate is probably contraindicated for stone formers. Back we go to moderation. A little chocolate, however…..? I want to keep from getting AFib, right?

I think for now, this is where I’ll leave chocolate; its flavanols; its intake and negative correlation with AFib; and its wonderful indulgent flavor. My advice is to eat a healthy diet and enjoy a little chocolate in your life. If it turns out not to be a huge health benefit, at least you can realize that you slowed your harried life and savored a bit of flavorful, creamy chocolate along the way.