Stories on the health benefits of consuming cocoa products have increasingly made the news following the discovery that they are an excellent source of catechins. Catechins are polyphenols of the flavanol group, and are believed to protect against heart disease, cancer, and various other medical conditions. However, most of these claims are based on studies that were done on catechins in isolation, ignoring all of chocolate’s other detrimental ingredients. If people were to consume pure cocoa, then they might indeed be able to enjoy a few health benefits, including a positive effect on blood pressure and glucose metabolism. But since the majority of people eat processed chocolate with all the other less desirable ingredients (i.e. added sugar, corn syrup, milk fats, dairy cream, hydrogenated oils, etc...), and where the actual cocoa content may be less than 20%, all the bets regarding chocolate being a healthy food are off.
From a nutritional perspective, chocolate is no less a junk food than ice cream or donuts, and it is equally unhealthy and fattening when larger amounts are consumed. However, some types are worse than others. Milk chocolate and lower grade bars contain fat from milk, which adversely affects cholesterol levels. Premium grade dark chocolate contains only cocoa butter, a fat that is fairly neutral in regard to an individual's lipid profile. But all chocolates are very calorie-dense, so while the fat content may not invite cardiovascular disease, regular consumption will add up to a lot of extra calories. Of course, this is in addition to the No.1 ingredient in most chocolate products: sugar, which is unquestionably worse than the fat when assessing the effects of chocolate on your overall health. So remember, whether milk or dark, this treat’s not all it’s “choc’d” up to be!!