Is It True?

Is it true that chocolate causes tooth decay and acne?  Is it true that it has no nutritional value and is fattening?  On the other hand, is it true that chocolate is an anti-depressant, and even an aphrodisiac?  So many rumors and questions, so much misinformation, but what are the answers?

Studies at both the U.S. Naval Academy and the Pennsylvania School of Medicine show that eating chocolate or not eating it had no significant effect on the study’s participants in regard to their acne conditions.  Other studies have shown that acne is not primarily linked to diet, making the question of chocolate being a cause a rather moot point.  Neither has chocolate been proven to cause cavities or tooth decay.  In fact, the cocoa butter in chocolate is believed to coat the teeth and may help protect them from the formation of plaque.  It is true that the sugar in chocolate does contribute to the formation of cavities, but no more so than the sugar content in any other food.

Any food eaten in excess can produce harmful effects on the body.  Chocolate is no different.  The cocoa butter in chocolate does contain saturated fat which can increase blood cholesterol levels.  And high cholesterol can contribute to heart disease.  But research at the University of California at Davis has shown that chocolate contains high levels of chemicals known as phenolics, some of which may help lower the risk of heart disease.  If you have an interest in studying this more fully, please look up the work of Andrew Waterhouse, the lead researcher at U.C. Davis and a wine chemist.

Scientists have discovered more than 300 known chemicals in chocolate.  They have been working on isolating specific individual chemicals and compounds in an effort to understand what causes the pleasant effects of eating chocolate.  They know that caffeine is present in chocolate, but only in small quantities.  Theobromine, a weak stimulant is also present, but again not in great quantities.  In combination these two chemicals (and possibly others) may be responsible for that “lift” that chocolate eaters experience.

Another compound, phenylethylamine is also found in chocolate.  It is related to amphetimines which are strong stimulants.  Stimulants such as these increase the activity of neurotransmitters in parts of the brain that enable us to stay alert and pay attention.  They also provide a sense of well-being.

By this time you may be getting a sense of the direction some research is heading.  At the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego they believe that chocolate contains pharmacologically active substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana, and that they may be responsible for certain drug-induced psychoses associated with chocolate craving.  Although I don’t want to get into all of the chemistry associated with this, let it suffice for me to say that though these chemicals may be similar to those found in marijuana, they are not the same, and will not cause one to get high from eating chocolate, nor addicted to it.

Much more could be said on this subject, and if you are interested, I suggest you check out the research yourself, but for our purposes, I think we have answered most of our initial questions, and come to the conclusions that chocolate is not nearly as harmful as some would like us to believe.  And if we eat it in moderation, we should not experience any ill effects.