The Down Side of Chocolate

This delicious treat comes with some strings attached

Caveats of eating too much chocolate. Derin Thorpe/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Don't get me wrong - I love chocolate as much as the next person (perhaps even more).  But despite promising evidence that chocolate can help you live longer by keeping your heart healthy and helping to ward off diabetes and stroke, it's not entirely a guilt-free treat.

According to a 2013 review published in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine, data on the potential health risks of chocolate consumption are scarce and represent an under-researched area of nutritional science.

Here are a few of the known perils of overindulging a chocolate habit; see if they help convince you to eat it only in moderation.

1.  Chocolate is high in calories: A 3 ounce (100 g) chocolate bar contains more than 500 calories, thanks to its high fat (and sugar, depending on the formulation) content. If you don't compensate for this intake by reducing your calorie consumption elsewhere in your diet, you will gain weight. Since obesity can contribute to age-related illnesses like cardiovascular problems and fatty liver disease, it's worth making sure you enjoy only small amounts of chocolate throughout the week - for your heart and your overall health.

2.  You may not be getting the antioxidants you expect:  Some of the studies revealing chocolate's association with lower incidence of cardiometabolic disorders like coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome have used concentrated cocoa products with higher active flavonol content, not available to the average consumer.

  Flavonols are the antioxidants believed to play a role in helping us age more slowly; by slowing cell damage, keeping blood vessels elastic, and platelets within blood from sticking together.  The chocolate you find on store shelves may bear little resemblance to that which is given to subjects in cocoa research.

Indeed, a commentary written by US National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins points out that to get the same amount of flavonols studied in some research, you'd have to eat at least 25 chocolate bars a day, risking obesity and likely negating any potential health benefits.

3.   Chocolate can interfere with sleep:  Chocolate contains caffeine, a stimulant which can contribute to anxiety and can interfere with sleep if consumed too close to bedtime.  If you are sensitive to the effects of caffeine, or struggle with insomnia, consider limiting your daily chocolate intake especially within a few hours of heading for bed.

4.  Chocolate can contribute to heartburn:  Chocolate contains theobromine, a constituent believed to cause heartburn because it relaxes the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus (food pipe), allowing irritating stomach acid to back up. If you suffer from heartburn, or have gastrointestinal problems like a hiatal hernia, take care to limit your chocolate intake throughout the day.

5.  Chocolate can stain your teeth: Like red wine, brightly-colored berries, and green smoothies, cocoa products can make aging teeth appear darker, tarnishing your smile and making you look older. You can minimize teeth staining by rinsing immediately after eating a piece of chocolate, and avoiding acidic foods which thin the enamel, exposing the yellowish dentin beneath the tooth's surface.

Acne link disproved:  Fortunately, skin problems are no longer a concern with chocolate, as its link to acne has been debunked. Indeed, while adult acne can persist into age 40, 50 and beyond, shifting hormones and skin changes with aging are believed to play a greater role, especially among older women.


Adriana Buitrago-Lopez, Jean Sanderson, Laura Johnson, Samantha Warnakula, Angela Wood, Emanuele Di Angelantonio, and Oscar H Franco. “Chocolate Consumption and Cardiometabolic Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. BMJ 2011;343:d4488.

Claims About Cocoa. US National Institutes of Health Public Information Sheet. Accessed February 4, 2015.

Francis Collins. "Could Flavanols Reverse Age-Related Memory Decline?" US National Institutes of Health Director's Blog. November 4, 2014. Accessed February 4, 2015.

R. Latif. "Chocolate/Cocoa and Human Health: A Review." Neth J Med. 2013 Mar;71(2):63-8.

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