General Health Friday March 2, 2012

Chocolate: Healthy or unhealthy?

Chocolate. It’s one of the great pleasures of life. One of the best things about it is the fact that it’s suitable for almost any occasion. It is fitting for both celebrations and commiserations, as a little gift or a personal treat. Unfortunately, like a lot of good things in life, it isn’t all that good for us. Packed full of calories with a high fat content and little in the way of actual nutritional value, chocolate very much belongs to the “treat” food group. Health-wise, there’s nothing good about chocolate. Or is there?

You may have heard a few tempting tales about the supposed health benefits of chocolate. Many people write them off as mere urban legends, but could there be some truth to them? A recent study from the United States involved the analysis of a number of clinical trials, finding that small improvements were seen in terms of blood pressure and blood flow in those who ate chocolate. Other studies which have been conducted in the past have also demonstrated that some benefit to the heart is seen through chocolate consumption.

Good news, right? Well, to an extent. Despite the positive findings, the researchers behind the study and experts all exercise caution when discussing the results. The reasons for this should be pretty clear. Essentially, even if chocolate does have a positive effect on heart health, this has only been demonstrated to be a very small effect, and does not outweigh the harmful effects of the high levels of sugar and fat. In simple terms, a healthy, balanced diet will do far more for your general health than embarking on a chocolate diet, fun as that may sound.

So why do these studies even take place? On balance, it seems we gain very little from these studies. They may be able to tell us a relatively small health benefit of the chocolate, but warn that such a benefit is not actually that beneficial at all when put in context. Why bother spending time, money and resources to tell us that what has been discovered really doesn’t mean all that much in real terms?

At any given time, numerous studies, analyses or trials will be taking place of some kind or another across the world in a bid to understand the effect certain things, like particular foods, have on our bodies and our health. Chocolate finds itself the object of study so often because, presumably, it is so popular. With so many people consuming it, often in large doses, it makes sense that so much research is done to understand the potential benefits and drawbacks it may have.

Though the study mentioned above may not have revealed some hitherto-unknown health benefit that would change the way we constructed our diet, it is still important as part of the growing field of research into our food. It may well be that one day we’ll find a way to produce chocolate that is healthy as well as delicious.

Until then, it’s probably best to keep thinking of chocolate as the occasional treat that it is, and not as the key that will unlock a healthy heart. Given at the right time, though, and you just might give someone’s heart a healthy glow.

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