Chocolate and Bone Health

It’s a super food in almost every way...except bone health. What’s a chocolate lover to do?
dark chocolate
Chocolate is becoming more and more recognized as a ‘superfood’ to the delight of chocolate lovers worldwide. Chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants, flavonols, polyphenols, magnesium and many other organic compounds that benefit health.

The European Foods Commission recently granted one Swiss chocolate maker, Barry Callebaut AG, the right to officially claim that its cocoa product has a beneficial effect on blood vessel health. Researchers have known for years that chocolate has numerous health benefits, but this is the first company that’s received official recognition, in part because this chocolate’s processing technique preserves 80% of the cocoa flavonols (phytochemical compounds found in high concentrations in a variety of plant-based foods and beverages).

The Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and similar institutions have published newsletters proclaiming the benefits of chocolate for heart and blood vessel health. And Women’s Health magazine reported nine health benefits of chocolate that includes weight management, increased protection from diabetes, stress relief, and increased alertness.

But before you get carried away, you should know that too much chocolate and certain kinds of chocolate are not good for your bones.

The nutritional value of chocolate is greatest in raw cocoa powder, but it’s very bitter and not enjoyed by itself. Next in nutritional value is baking chocolate, followed by dark chocolate, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup with the least nutritional value. The chocolates most people prefer contain way too much sugar and are higher in fats - in addition to containing less of the health-promoting nutrients.

While there are studies that show health benefits only with consumption of large amounts of chocolate, there are others that show it’s quality over quantity, like this one, which shows a small amount of dark chocolate (10 g) containing more than 75% cocoa significantly improves vascular function in young and healthy individuals.

In a study of chocolate consumption and bone density in older women, those who consumed chocolate daily had lower bone density and strength. This wasn’t because chocolate replaced other foods but rather because chocolate appears to interfere with bone metabolism.

Chocolate also interferes with calcium: it gets rid of calcium that’s already in the body, and prevents more calcium from getting into the body from foods, disrupting bone health. Sound familiar? It's similar to how too much coffee causes calcium loss, and is also bad for bones.

A small amount of dark chocolate, about one square of 85% dark chocolate, should deliver the health benefits without risking your bone health. Chocoholics should take extra care to eat nutritiously and supplement with calcium and other nutrients.

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