Medicinal Chocolate . . . Part 1

February 27, 2008

My husband has a saying: “If it’s not chocolate, it’s not dessert.” It’s a sentiment shared by all members of our household (even, unfortunately, our dog, for whom chocolate is toxic). And the darkest chocolate, my daughter notes, is the best, by which she means the yummiest.

A HEALTH FOOD? Some groups are touting the benefits of chocolate and their antioxidants. Their claim: the darker the candy the better. iStockphoto

Health groups have begun lauding dark chocolate as well—but in their case, for its putative health benefits. Just Monday, for instance, the National Foundation for Cancer Research issued a press release stating that “the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. Dark chocolate possesses higher levels of antioxidants, fewer calories and less fat than its milk- and white-chocolate cousins.” Regarding those antioxidants, NFCR adds that chocolate contains “potent levels” of them, “which can help prevent diseases and neutralize cell-damaging free radicals.”

Whoa. Our dessert is a health food? That certainly sounds like the take-home message.

To learn more, I called NFCR, a Bethesda, Md.-based organization that provides seed funding for what it terms innovative research. The group also brags that it “has been the incubator for many of the most important discoveries in cancer research over the past 30 years.” Such as that chocolate fights cancer?

Well, not exactly, according to Silas Deane, who’s the group’s vice president for communications and marketing. NFCR did sponsor research on flavonoids—those antioxidants linked with health benefits. He says they’re the same compounds found in chocolate, although those used in the NFCR study weren’t actually collected from chocolate.

Its studies were conducted in animals, and from what Deane can recall, “the flavonoids were effective in helping prevent pretty much all cancers. In don’t think there was any particular one.” To make sure, he’s promised to track down the research within a few days and get back to me (I caught him while he was on the road attending some meeting). I’ll let you know what I learn.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine

From the Nature Index

Paid Content