Welcome to episode 487 of The Whole View! This week, Stacy and Dr. Sarah break down the science behind chocolate to determine nutritional benefits and how it can fit into a a healthy lifestyle.
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The Whole View, Episode 487: The Chocolate-cast!
Welcome to episode 487 of the Whole View! (1:20)
Before we get started, treat yourself to Dr. Sarah’s fabulous article on The Health Benefits of Chocolate!
And now onto the good stuff!
The Many Health Benefits Of Chocolate
Chocolate comes from the cacao bean (Theobroma cacao tree means “food of the gods” in Greek). (6:10)
Cocoa butter is about two-thirds saturated fat and one-third monounsaturated fat (the same fat found in olive oil).
Dark chocolate, in particular, contains about 70% cocoa and has many beneficial nutrients!
Research shows cacao has aspirin-like and anti-diabetic effects, reduces stress and stroke risk, supports maintaining healthy body weight, improves cognitive performance, and may even have anti-cancer properties!
Other studies show dark chocolate can reduce heart disease risk and provide other vascular health benefits.
This 2017 meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies looked at heart disease, stroke, and diabetes risk.
A 2015 randomized controlled trial of adults with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure studied dark chocolate’s impact on diabetes.
This 2017 Cochrane systematic review examined the reduction in blood pressure among healthy adults.
A 2017 meta-analysis of prospective studies looked at chocolate in terms of lowering the risk of developing heart failure.
Another 2019 meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials examined how chocolate impacted body weight and BMI among participants.
A trial in middle-aged men looked at cocoa butter’s impact on total and LDL cholesterol.
Another trial suggests the polyphenol in chocolate results in a net positive for heart health regardless of the isolated effects of saturated fats!
The Nutrivore Score Of Chocolate
The Nutrivore Score of unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutched/processed with alkali) is a whopping 1049! (36:30)
That makes cocoa powder more nutrient-dense than artichoke (898), sweet potatoes (506), or crab (973)!
In fact, cocoa powder is one of the top 100 Nutrivore Scores of all the ones Dr. Sarah has calculated to date!
The Nutrivore Score of dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa) is 190, semi-sweet chocolate (60-69% cocoa) is 148, and milk chocolate (45-59% cocoa) is 127.
So, while not as impressive as cocoa powder, dark chocolate still fairs very well! It’s more nutrient-dense than most grains, most dairy products, cuts of meat, and even fruit! A banana’s Nutrivore Score is 189!
One study studied the decreases in polyphenol and flavanol in more heavily alkalized cocoa vs. natural cocoa.
Another study from Spain examined the alkalization treatment of cocoa powder in terms of flavonoid content.
This analysis compared the levels of procyanidins in natural cocoa powder vs. Dutched powder.
Ingredients To Avoid
The dairy used in chocolate is typically low-quality A1-dairy but is usually an issue only if you’re sensitive. (55:50)
Lecithin (soy or sunflower derived) is the least problematic emulsifier but can be metabolized into TMAO by our gut bacteria (linked to cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer).
- Is It Paleo? Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, and Lecithin, Oh My!
- TPV Podcast Episode 365: Does Paleo Cause Heart Disease?
Vegetable Fats (ick)!
Artificial Sweeteners (double ick)!
- TPV Podcast, Episode 309: Aspartame Is Evil
- TWV Podcast Episode 467: Can Eating Sugar Daily Be Healthy?
- Sugar and Sweetener FAQ
Colorings and unnatural flavoring (even more ick)!
The simplest ingredient list is often the best and healthiest option and an indicator of high-quality ingredients since many additives mask low-quality cocoa.
Remember, good quality chocolate needs very few ingredients and buy fair-trade as often as possible.
Why Dark Chocolate Isn’t AIP
Unfortunately, cocoa doesn’t get an automatic pass on the Autoimmune Protocol. Several studies show cacao polyphenols suppress Th2 and increase Th1 helper T cell activity. (1:0853)
Depending on the details of individual immune function, that may or may not be helpful. It’s also still unclear whether or not this effect is context-dependent.
So, it’s always best to consult a primary care doctor.
Dr. Sarah invites you to stay tuned! As researchers perform more studies, the science could change.
The good news, for now, is cacao/chocolate is a stage 1 reintroduction food on the AIP protocol.
It’s okay to enjoy chocolate every day if you choose very dark and high-quality chocolate. Just don’t go crazy! (1:20:25)
About an ounce per day seems to be the sweet spot (pun intended) for the highest magnitude health benefits.
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