IN the last few years chocolate has gained much publicity, from being viewed by many as a treat to be enjoyed on occasion, to the other end of the scale, where some have tried to hail it as a “superfood”.

Chocolate was discovered some three thousand years ago by tribes who extracted the pods from cacao trees, each pod containing twenty to thirty cocoa beans. Roasting these beans produced the earliest edible product, a non-alcoholic liquor consumed as drinking chocolate.

Dark chocolate which is high in cocoa, has seen a renaissance of late, this purporting the greatest health benefits.

Cocoa is high in flavanols, a form of antioxidants. It is thought that these may combat free radicals, such as those found in cigarettes, which speed up the ageing process and also increase the risk of developing cancer.

The higher the cocoa content of any chocolate, the greater the presumed health benefits, with the figure of 70 per cent or more cocoa often used as a bench mark. This also means the chocolate will contain less sugar, fat and other calorie high but nutritionally poor additives.

Dark chocolate is high in fibre and certain minerals, for example magnesium, potassium, selenium and zinc.

Several studies have linked it to reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, better memory, increased mood and positivity, as well as higher libido and sexual arousal. However, the majority of these have been low quality with few subjects (one had fewer than ten participants) and could only demonstrate at best an association but not a cause-and-effect relationship between chocolate consumption and better health.

Other foods high in flavanols include fruits, berries, as well as red wine.

In addition, although dark chocolate may be healthy, while undergoing processing, flavanols may be removed to a significant degree.

Chocolate is a calorie dense food. If you are trying to maintain a sensible weight, or struggling to lose it, overindulgence may hamper your efforts.

Some chocolate, typically milk and white, is high in sugars, which are linked to increased risks of inflammation, one of the processes in the development of heart disease.

High sugar foods do not provide feelings of fullness for long, and are linked to increased cravings, emotional irritability and an inability to control your blood sugars.

Chocolate contains caffeine. It can trigger anxiety, palpitations and insomnia.

As an acidic product it may worsen heartburn.

Chocolate also contains oxalates which can increase the risk of kidney stones.

Added to this is the uncomfortable truth that a significant amount of cocoa bean harvesting has involved child and/or slave labour, hence the recommendation to purchase fair trade chocolate.

Organic chocolate manufacture tends to involve less use of pesticides.

A large number of people have a strong emotional attachment to chocolate, it being seen as a comfort food, with many confessing to an addiction.

However, those have a healthy relationship with the product, viewing it as a treat and not a sin, are more likely to be able to incorporate it into their diet in a way that doesn’t end in feast or famine.

Like alcohol, the benefits of chocolate are certainly not strong enough to recommend it to those who do not eat it for whatever reason.

However, for anyone who does like the taste, it is definitely dark chocolate which has greater benefits than milk or white, the latter containing virtually no cocoa at all.

A chocolate bar is not the perfect portion size, rather many would agree 1 ounce (30 grammes), daily or perhaps every other day, may help you appreciate the taste without all the calories.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or contact 01325 505054