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Can chocolate be good for you?

As dental professionals, we’re often labelled the fun police when it comes to endorsing foods. While it’s our job to help you make better decisions for your health, we’re not opposed to an occasional indulgence, provided that it’s balanced by great oral hygiene. So with Easter upon us, the big question is ‘can chocolate be good for you?’ 

At this time of year, many concerned Mums begin wondering about their family's intake of chocolate treats. There’s good news—chocolate has been found to be beneficial in all sorts of ways. Not only can your dental health benefit from the consumption of cacao and cocoa-rich foods, but your mental and physical wellbeing can all gain some benefits from treats during this annual holiday. 

So how could chocolate be any good for my teeth? 

The ancient Mayans worshipped the cacao plant so perhaps they instinctively knew what science is uncovering today. 

Studies in the US have found that theobromine a methylxanthine and potent compound found in cacao—showed a consistent and remarkable protection of tooth enamel upon application [1]. Furthermore, a study at the University of Texas found that theobromine was as effective as toothpaste at remineralisation [2]. 

Cocoa has also been studied for its antibacterial effects against the nasties that lurk around the teeth and gums. Results suggest that the polyphenols in Cocoa are responsible for significantly positive antibacterial effect against some, but not all, problem-causing, oral bacteria. [5] 

Chocolate’s whole body health benefits 

The antioxidant properties found in both cocoa and cacao have long been studied in the medical community. An Oxford Academic publication noted that flavanol-rich high-cocoa products improved insulin sensitivity; the lowering of blood pressure; reduced platelet aggregation (clotting); and improved blood vessel function [3]. 

Further studies suggest that the flavan-3-ol in dark chocolate is beneficial for metabolic and cardiovascular health [4]. Additionally, dark chocolate contains a rich blend of minerals including magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc and selenium—all essential nutrients for a healthy body. 

Mental health benefits 

The theobromine in dark chocolate is a close cousin of caffeine and produces similar benefits but without the drawbacks of coffee such as insomnia or anxiety. 

Milk chocolate has added milk solids and a lower percentage of cacao, so the sadly the benefits are lower for your dental and physical health. But fear not lovers of milk chocolate! There’s an upside albeit small, for you too. 

It has been found that all chocolate, contains methylxanthines which are associated with improved cognitive function and neuroprotective effects [1] Not only does it keep your brain healthy, it makes your brain work better too! 

But the team at Cole didn’t need an official study to know that chocolate is a comfort food that helps boost our mood! 

So should I put my eggs all in one basket? 

While there’s growing evidence that cacao ticks many health boxes, let’s not forget that the resultant chocolate, while delicious, is still largely made up of fat and sugar. So, while we can condone the cacao health benefits from the occasional treat (especially at Easter), we still recommend keeping your everyday sugar intake low and being regular when it comes to brushing and flossing. 

[1] Health Benefits of Methylxanthines in Cacao and Chocolate 
[2] Remineralization of Artificial Enamel Lesions by Theobromine 
[3] Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: asystematic review 
[4] Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center
[5] Antibacterial Effects of Cocoa on Periodontal Pathogenic Bacteria