Vitamin D: Dark Chocolate?

By Sara Hulse
The Minstrel

The food pyramid may need to be re-worked yet again.  Scientists have encountered new findings about foods which never before seemed to have health benefits (and in some cases were thought to be detrimental!).  A very popular finding: dark chocolate may be good for one’s health.

This is nothing unheard of for members of the DeSales community.  When asked about dark chocolate, Nicole Sutton, Assistant Director of Admissions, responded, “Isn’t it supposed to be good for you?”   This is not something she read in a medical journal or even newspaper, but has just “heard around,” and seems to be considered common knowledge.

Sophomore Michelle McCarthy also commented, “I’ve heard that small amounts of dark chocolate are good for you.”  Similar to Sutton, she has just “heard this around.” In addition, she has seen chocolate companies use it for marketing schemes (though unable to recall specific corporations).

News sources have been reporting the dark chocolate findings since the breaking reports from scientists, who have claimed that the flavanols in dark chocolate are heart-healthy.  The Washington Post reports that these flavanols are “plant-based substances,” and are generally more abundant in darker chocolate.  Consumers must beware however: chocolate may have the flavanols taken out by the makers because of their bitter taste, so double-check before assuming the chocolate is beneficial.

According to many major news sources, including The Washington Post, USA Today, ABC News, and even the BBC, these flavanols can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. They have also been proven to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer, and protect against Alzheimer’s disease.  (Note: a similar craze has emerged amongst red wine connoisseurs.  It, too, contains flavanols). 

British news source, The Daily Mail, suggests, “Eating dark chocolate daily for two weeks may lessen the risk of disease.”

ABC News makes similar recommendations to The Daily Mail, quoting Dr. Dirk Taubert, professor at the University Hospital of Cologne, Germany, who verifies, “We found that it’s good to eat small amounts of dark chocolate every day on a regular basis.”

Though the news of potential health benefits from dark chocolate is exciting for many, medical professionals warn this is not a green light to over-indulge.  Tammy M. Lippincott, Director of the DeSales University Health Center, reminds students that “everything in moderation” is important in this case.  Lippincott did suggest that dark is better than milk chocolate, if experiencing a chocolate craving (milk chocolate does not contain the heart-healthy flavanols). 

Lippincott does warn, “When people think anything is better, it gives them an excuse to do more.”  Doing more though, may not always be the best thing.  Lippincott’s statement is in accordance with recent news releases, which seem to be clarifying earlier news reports about the benefits of dark chocolate.

Sally Squires of The Washington Post investigated the issue last year, publishing the article “Your Heart May Have a Sweet Tooth” on February 12, 2008.  The benefits of dark chocolate are explored; however special care is taken to ensure that the message is not taken the wrong way.  Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University notes, “Broccoli, yes, you can eat all you want.  Dark chocolate, I can’t say that about.”

Dennis A. Savaiano, professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University, is also quoted in Squires’ article, saying, “Chocolate is high in calories [150 calories per ounce] and fairly high in fat.”  Savaiano continues, “If you’re going to have some candy, it seems to me that dark chocolate is among the best choices.”

This message is not necessarily being delivered by candy companies, thrilled at the health benefits of dark chocolate.  These corporations have made it a point to market the benefits of the flavanols.  According to the Los Angeles Times, in an article published on August 22, 2007, “U.S. chocolate sales fell 1% last year…Yet the dark chocolate segment of the market grew almost 15%...It now accounts for 25.1% of all chocolate sold.”  Also reported is the 5.5% decrease in milk chocolate sales the year before.

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