The cocoa bean, from which chocolate is made, is a rather complex food containing hundreds of naturally occurring chemicals. Many of them can affect human biology and overall health.
Chocolate contains:
·         Fats:  Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat (good kind) found in olive oil. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, but unlike the other saturated fats in the human diet, it does not raise cholesterol levels because the body can metabolize it to oleic acid. Chocolate also contains a small amount of palmitic acid, another saturated fat.·         Polyphenols:  Chocolate contains three different types of polyphenols; flavonoids, catechins and epicatechins. The flavonoids have healthy properties, mainly for the cardiovascular health.  Flavonoids are present in many healthy foods; pples, cherries, and teas; but dark chocolate is the richest source.  In addition to giving the chocolate its taste, flavonoids provide a host of antioxidants to help the body better strengthen its defenses.protecting tissues from damage by oxygen free radicals.

Among other beneficial actions, flavonoids protect LDL from oxidation, which puts the “bad” into “bad cholesterol.”  Flavanols, a type of flavonoid, have other positive influences on vascular health, such as:

o   Lowering blood pressure
o   Improving endothelial function making for increased blood flow to the brain and heart
o   Making blood thinner by making platelets less sticky and unable to clot
o   Lowering cholesterol·         Amino acids: Chocolate is high in tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine. Like other amino acids, these nitrogen-rich compounds are the building blocks of all the body’s proteins. But two of these amino acids have a unique property. They are precursors of adrenaline, a stress hormone, and dopamine, a neurotransmitter that relays signals between nerve cells in the brain. Eating chocolate may provide pleasure or a reward-like feeling.
·         Methylxanthine: Chocolate has been known to enhance moods or provide that “pick me up” when we are feeling down.  It contains a natural chemical called theobromine, which is similar to caffeine.

Will any chocolate do?

Not necessarily, there are many types of chocolate available and not all of them can provide the above mentioned benefits.  It’s important to purchase chocolate that is rich in cocoa liquor. Dark chocolate is formulated with a higher percentage of chocolate liquor, and therefore contains greater amounts of helpful components. By contrast, white chocolate contains sugar and cocoa butter, but no cocoa or chocolate liquor, and therefore does not contain polyphenols.  The milk in milk chocolate interferes with antioxidant absorption and the processing filters out much of the above nutrients.How much chocolate do I need?
Generally, a square of dark chocolate (60% to 70%) a day will do it.  More can promote weight gain and often provides added sugar, which offsets cardiovascular benefits.

Whether chocolate is good or bad for you, depends largely on the type of chocolate and the amount you consume.

-Rushabh Shah, Pharm. D Candidate 2011