Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Apr

The Dark Side of Dark Chocolate

chocolate 1I love dark chocolate. You love dark chocolate. Everyone but the most soulless, coldhearted, and puppy-hating among us love dark chocolate. And I hesitated even writing this post because the scientific evidence that dark chocolate offers numerous health benefits when consumed in moderation is substantial and, in my opinion, undeniable. However, there is a “dark side” to dark chocolate. That doesn’t mean dark chocolate is “bad,” just that nothing in this life is binary. Like any other healthy food we eat, there are caveats and limitations. Things to keep in mind.

So let’s take a look at some of the murkier aspects of dark chocolate to see if there’s anything we would be better of being aware of.

It’s food, not manna from the gods with magical properties and negative calories.

As healthy as it (or any food) might be, and as many unique polyphenols and hepatoprotective fatty acids and reactive oxygen species-scavenging abilities it might have, dark chocolate still contains calories. It’s still energy-dense candy that will make you gain weight if you eat too much of it. 100 grams of dark chocolate has over 500 calories, give or take and depending on sugar content. That’s a solid meal that some people are treating like a free supplement.

How much is too much? That depends on what you do with the rest of your day. If you’re really active and/or account for chocolate in your overall food intake, you can eat a bit more. But a little bit goes a long way. That’s exactly why I suggest (and personally prefer) the high-cacao chocolates – you get more bang for your buck and don’t need (or want) so much. A square, maybe two squares, maybe three or four of the 85%+ dark chocolate provides plenty of benefits and any more is frankly unpalatable. Studies showing the cardiovascular and blood flow benefits of chocolate use anything from 6.3 grams to 100 grams of chocolate, with most falling somewhere in the middle. This is potent stuff and you don’t really need a lot of it.

Not all chocolate is created equal.

I probably don’t have to say this, but any chocolate with less than 85% cacao is veering dangerously close to Hershey’s territory. The dark chocolate you eat should be bitter. It should bite back. It should last ten or fifteen seconds in your mouth before melting. Again, not all chocolate is created equal.

It might be addictive.

Scientists aren’t sure what’s responsible for the “addiction,” but people definitely crave chocolate. It’s the most commonly craved food in most studies on the topic.

But why?

It’s probably a combination of the sugar, the psychoactive compounds in cocoa (caffeine, theobromine, anandamide, and dozens of others yet to be quantified and qualified), the texture, and the high calorie content that make chocolate such an attractive food. Who doesn’t like sweet, energy-dense, delicious, mood-altering food?

Eating too much, even of a good thing like chocolate, can have negative metabolic effects that counteract the beneficial ones.

It can contain mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins are, well, toxins produced by mold. Aflatoxin-producing molds are endemic in the tropics and frequently show up in commodity crops like coffee, corn, peanuts, and cacao. Of cocoa products, dark chocolate is the most likely to have mycotoxins, while low-cocoa chocolates like white chocolate have very little to none. Is it a problem?

I think it depends. Certain people seem especially sensitive to mycotoxins. Take Dave Asprey of the Bulletproof Executive, who really harps on the mycotoxin issue and gets a lot of flak for it from people who think he’s exaggerating. It’s clear that he’s sensitive to them while others are not. Mycotoxins clearly do exist in some samples of dark chocolate, though rarely exceeding levels generally recognized to be safe. They’re not imaginary. Do I worry about them? Not personally, because I haven’t noticed any negative symptoms, they’re not present in every piece of dark chocolate, and when they are present it rarely exceeds the safety limit (which, again, might be too high for some individuals).

If dark chocolate is giving you symptoms of mycotoxin toxicity, or any negative symptoms for that matter, you shouldn’t eat it.

Cocoa flavanols are excellent, but there is no way to know the flavanol content of a particular bar.

Eating dark chocolate with a higher percentage of cacao (85% and up) is a good start, but any two given bars, even if they’re from the same batch with identical cacao content, will have different levels of flavanols. That’s a natural consequence of consuming real, whole food. The nutrient content of two members of the same plant species will differ from one to another, as mother nature doesn’t deal with beakers and microgram scales when she’s doling out the micronutrients and producing polyphenols.

But it does mean that your favorite dark chocolate that tastes so good and so smooth that you can’t believe it’s chock full of antioxidants might not be so healthy. Cocoa flavanols are generally quite bitter, so bitterness is a rough barometer for antioxidant content.

It contains a substance “related to amphetamine.”

In just about every scary anti-cocoa article I’ve read, the author makes a big deal about a chocolate alkaloid called phenethylamine (PEA). What is PEA? PEA is in the same chemical family as amphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), mescaline (found in peyote), and all sorts of illicit substances, but it’s also a human neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation, and we endogenously manufacture psychoactive amounts of PEA in our own bodies on a regular basis. Does this mean our central nervous systems are basically meth labs? No. PEA is an important neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and can trigger the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. Some have even called it the “love hormone.”

Besides, oral PEA isn’t active unless you inhibit monoamine oxidase, the enzyme that breaks it down and prevents it from reaching the brain. If you want to get the stimulatory and other psychoactive, potentially negative effects of PEA, you have to take a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) along with it. In fact, since depressed people have lower levels of PEA and related metabolites, concurrent PEA and MAOI supplementation has been shown to improve mood and have anti-depressant qualities. Chocolate also improves mood, although via polyphenol action, not PEA. Perhaps depressed people who tend to eat more chocolate are actually (and successfully) trying to self-medicate.

Are we chocolate-eaters safe from PEA, then? A recent study posits a connection between chocolate, PEA, and Parkinson’s disease, and in vitro research suggests a mechanism for PEA-induced neurodegeneration. But they’re talking about endogenous PEA – the kind that’s made in the body and gets to the brain – not chocolate-derived PEA. And another study found that PEA levels are depressed in patients with Parkinson’s disease, so there’s no clear answer either way.

It can cause migraines.

One of the more commonly reported migraine triggers is dark chocolate, with the caffeine, phenethylamine, and/or tyramine content getting the blame. Caffeine is present in greater amounts in many other foods, like coffee and tea – although many caffeine abstainers could be unaware of the caffeine in chocolate and thus susceptible to it. PEA is a minor part of chocolate that isn’t even orally active, while tyramine is found in greater amounts in cheese, aged meats, and other cured or fermented items.

But one trial found that among frequent migraine and other headache sufferers, dark chocolate was no more a trigger than carob. An earlier double blind study in people who reported having migraines after consuming chocolate also found that chocolate was not the cause. One theory is that whatever is causing the migraine also causes the desire for and subsequent consumption of chocolate.

Still, a migraine is nothing to be trifled with, and I find it hard to believe that everyone reporting chocolate as a trigger is “just mistaken” or “lying to themselves.” I don’t discount personal, direct experience as readily as some. Don’t eat chocolate if it triggers migraines.

It supports child slavery, depending on the source.

A disconcertingly large portion of the cacao grown on the Ivory Coast of West Africa is handled by child laborers, often indentured against their will. Slaves, essentially.

Child slavery/labor doesn’t affect the nutrient content of the chocolate, but I find it does leave a bad taste in the mouth. Some would counter that it’s difficult to find any food with purely ethical origins. That may be true. Agriculture can be a dirty business. Still, it’s good to make better choices when we can and when we know that an ethical problem exists. Spending a little extra or being more discerning in your choice of chocolate may not bring about world peace or end suffering, but it does make a small difference. It’s better than nothing. And hey, the producers that pay attention to labor ethics tend to also pay attention to the quality of their chocolate.

Here’s a list of companies that get their chocolate from ethical farms. And here’s another list. These aren’t exhaustive, but they get you started. You can also look for “Fair Trade” on the label.

In lieu of a “Fair Trade”-type stamp on the package, get chocolate made from cacao grown in South or Central America, since child labor/slavery isn’t an issue in those regions.

All that said, do I still recommend the regular if moderate consumption of dark chocolate? Yes. I was worried about the coming chocolate shortage disrupting the steady flow of my “brown gold” if you people kept buying up all the chocolate. Potential problems exist, but none of them are so monumental that you should fear the stuff. Obviously, if dark chocolate gives you migraines, triggers binges, or makes you feel awful and gain belly fat, don’t eat it. But if you’re enjoying your dark chocolate and your health is good and you’re pleased with the effect it has on your body weight, go for it.

Just remember that dark chocolate is ultimately candy – a high quality treat with specific health benefits that you should savor and enjoy in moderate doses, not gorge on as if it were a meal.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What are your thoughts? Is dark chocolate overrated as a health food?

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  1. I’ve always liked white chocolate the best and then milk chocolate. Dark chocolate was always my least favorite. I was always in it for the sugar hit! Eventually you’d just find me in the gutter mainlining marshmallow peeps.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Re. the white chocolate, me too. I’ve never liked dark chocolate (too bitter), rarely eat milk chocolate, and have never craved chocolate of any kind. Given a choice of flavors, I always preferred to get my sugar fix from something other than chocolate. I guess I’m just weird, or lack the chocolate gene or something. I must lack the marshmallow gene too since I wouldn’t be caught dead eating Peeps.

      Shary wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • Apparently I don’t have the chocolate gene either. I have a soul, love puppies (and kitties) and I have a warm heart- i just don’t like chocolate of any kind. I have plenty of other vices so I’m OK with not having chocolate as one!

        Linda wrote on April 22nd, 2014
        • I have never liked chocolate either. When I was a child & people gave me chocolate Easter eggs, they would still be in my cupboard uneaten at Christmas!

          Christine wrote on April 23rd, 2014
      • I agree..I like chocolate good enough…my pick would be milk chocolate, if I ate it, but CARAMEL that my fix..especially salted caramel ice cream….don’t eat it now that I’m primal, ’cause I know its not good for me.

        Joan wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  2. After eating more chocolate than I should on Easter Sunday, I’ve been staying away from all forms of chocolate. Though I’ll probably have another bite in a few weeks.

    Steph wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  3. Thanks for the information on Mycotoxins. Chocolate, especially high cocoa chocolate makes me sick in minutes. It took years to figure out what the trigger was and avoid chocolate, although I never ‘preferred’ chocolate even as a kid. For a long time I thought it was venison since I had a couple of incidents after eating venison without making the connection it was the chocolate dessert after the meal.

    Paul wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • It took me months to figure out that dark chocolate is making me sick, It was bad enough that I end up in the hospital going through all sort of tests trying to diagnose the cause, with no result. By pure chance I had to go off all the coffeine (and i don’t drink tea or coffee, so that meat only chocolate elimination) and all my symptoms are gone!

      Sila wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • I know with my horses I feed a toxin binder to combat the mycotoxins that grow on grass. My horse is susceptable to them. They cause digestive issues which lead to a raft of different ailments from laminitis (de-laminating of the hoof wall) to photosensitivity (sunburn and eye issues). Dairy farmers often feed toxin binder as well because silage, baleage and rye pasture contains too many mycotoxins for the cows to deal with.

        I wonder if there is a human equivalent that could help those people who are sensitive to mycotoxins?

        Janine wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  4. You said to look for “Free Trade” chocolate. I think you meant “Fair Trade.”
    Free trade means unfettered by import limits, labor laws, environmental regulations- anything that could stand in the way of making money, basically.
    Fair trade means ethical treatment of farm workers, fair wages, and smart environmental stewardship.
    It’s confusing to just about everyone that the two phrases are so similar.

    Daniela wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • He said Fair Trade

      Scott wrote on April 23rd, 2014
    • Import limits are incredibly unfair and hinders choice. I love having prices artificially high, don’t you?

      That being said fair trade is over all better, but it DOESN’T guarantee environmental stewardship.

      Lyndsey wrote on April 24th, 2014
  5. For people with herpes another dark aspect of dark chocolate is that it’s high in L-arginine. Herpes feeds off L-arginine.

    C L Deards wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Lamb is also high in L-arginine.

      Wenchypoo wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Yup. I love dark chocolate and pretty much got addicted to eating the 90% stuff mixed with almond butter and coconut oil. Only after 5 cold sores within about 6 months did I make the connection and give it up :(

      M. wrote on April 23rd, 2014
      • I had the same experience.

        I was sad because I loved the 85-90% dark chocolate. I viewed it as a treat.

        My plan is to add some to my diet in parallel with a lysine supplement. Lysine and arginine compete for the same receptors. If I can block the arginine with the lysine maybe I can still eat chocolate.

        But is chocolate worth the hassle?

        C L Deards wrote on April 23rd, 2014
    • A little lysine will rebalance excess arginine!

      RenegadeRN wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  6. “A square, maybe two squares, maybe three or four…” Yep, that’s how it begins…

    Diane wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Yes, I’ve found this too. On and off over the last 5 Primal years I’ve had chocolate in and out of the diet.

      It certainly triggers me into wanting more and more and slipping into the marshmallow swamp as well!

      The caffeine/theobromine content seems to be an issue for me. I’m much more even about all foods when they are out of the equation.

      I’ve recently read in a natural HRT book that some clinical studies have linked caffeine (and its fellow stimulants) with breast tenderness. I cut the stimulants out 6 weeks back and voila no tenderness and a cycle returning to 28 days. I suspect once into peri-menopause the hormonal balance is more sensitive to some of these stimulants.

      I’m also a chronic insomniac and know that the fewer the stimulants the better and theobromine clears the body much more slowly that caffeine, in fact it breaks down via caffeine so you kind of have a double hit. Dark chocolate has higher levels of theobromine than other foods and it is postulated it is this chemical that is involved in the addictive potential.

      Kelda wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  7. I used to have ridiculous chocolate cravings. I could literally eat bars of baker’s chocolate. Once I addressed a severe magnesium deficiency, my chocolate cravings went to a more typical level (I like to have one or two squares of 90% cacao chocolate once every day or two). I am guessing that the high levels of magnesium in chocolate have something to do with this.

    Melissa wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Eating unsweetened baking chocolate as I read this… (breakfast of champions!) I was just looking into the magnesium issue as well. Interesting.

      AKarnes wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  8. In addition to the points raised here, dark chocolate also tends to contain a substantial amount of heavy metals, I believe – albeit depending on the cocoa-growing area, and the overall impact appears to be a controversial issue.

    Karl wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • My sister works for the State of California on lead issues. Apparently, lots of third-world countries still use leaded gas. I’m sure there are lists of lead-free chocolate. I don’t know off hand where they are.

      Harry Mossman wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • Harry,

        I would assume you are right. I am personally not into any kind of chocolate; I just heard about this issue from a friend who is doing research on the link between cadmium exposure via food and kidney disease, and thought it deserved to be mentioned.

        Karl wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • Lots of second-world countries also still use leaded gas–Italy is one.

        Wenchypoo wrote on April 22nd, 2014
        • Wait – Italy is a second-world country in your book? Interesting perspective…

          Karl wrote on April 22nd, 2014
        • The division of the world into three worlds was political not about living standards. The first world was the US and its allies. The Second world was the communist countries. The third world was everyone else. The terms have made little sense for the last 20 years and have shifted in their meanings a bit but but Italy was always part of the first world.

          richard wrote on April 23rd, 2014
        • From the point of view of the US and its allies, anyway. From the Soviet perspective, the USSR and its allies were first world countries, and the US and allies were second world.

          Bill C wrote on April 23rd, 2014
      • They need to watch episode 7 of the cosmos series!

        Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  9. Despite all my adhering to a Paleo approach to diet, I seem unable to shake my “love affair” with dark chocolate. I’m not sure if life is worth living without the dark chocolate, and an occasional glass of red wine. Darn it! Any suggestions on what to replace it with? I too like a treat of some kind at the end of a long day.

    Goddess wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • A little red wine and chocolate are fine under Primal unless you have serious problems with some of the issues Mark mentions.

      Harry Mossman wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • I have not tried this, but apparently Divine Organics make a Raw PILI NUT BUTTER with coconut sugar in & if you stir it so that it is very liquid & then pour it into a chocolate mould & then put it into the fridge to harden, it tastes like chocolate & doesn’t have any cacao in. Pili nuts contain a lot of magnesium just the same as chocolate does & appear to have a lot of health benefits. I have no idea whether they are any better or worse for you than cacao, but for anyone not able to eat cacao, but miss the chocolate taste, it may be worth a try.

      Christine wrote on April 23rd, 2014
      • I haven’t heard of pili nut butter. Thanks, I plan to look into it.

        Goddess wrote on April 23rd, 2014
    • Don’t “replace” it with anything. Eat the chocolate, drink the wine! LIVE life!

      VickiV wrote on April 24th, 2014
      • I like your attitude! :)

        Goddess wrote on April 24th, 2014
  10. Thanks for the info on slave-free chocolate. I just did a report on slavery in 18th and 19th century England. The slave ships and slavery on Caribbean Islands was deeply evil. People in England sort of knew that but they just “had to have” sugar for their coffee, tea and chocolate. (Sound familiar?) And white people couldn’t (wouldn’t) work under those conditions, so what could they do.

    Slavery was officially abolished nearly everywhere in the 19th century. But there are more slaves now than at any time in history, an estimated 30 million de facto slaves. There are long lists of slave-free chocolate brands. There is no excuse for not choosing it.

    I have mostly been buying Endangered Species brand. I see that they don’t quite have a perfect score. Hmmm.

    Harry Mossman wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Good you bought that up, When I was a kid (I was born in 1961) I thought that slavery was something that happened in the bad old days before William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately as we now know, it’s very much alive and well in the 21st century. The 30 million slaves you spoke of, is two and a half to over three times the number (depending on which historian you speak to) of Africans shipped to the Americas in four centuries of legal slave trading. Every little bit to raise public awareness helps.

      Paul in Australia wrote on April 23rd, 2014
    • Endangered Species used to have a better supply chain for their chocolate, but moved toward a very lax certification in the “Rainforest Alliance” seal. Now they do not have anyone overseeing their sourcing to let the consumer know where items are coming from- a true red flag! Some amazing Authentic Fair Trade brands (meaning the sources are traceable and come from small cooperative farms) : Equal Exchange (also a worker coop), Divine, Alter Eco, Theo.

      River wrote on April 25th, 2014
  11. But chocolate, like beer, wine, sausage, asparagus and some kinds of cheese and smoked fish, does contain an MAOI. Also, the sugar can be fermented by yeast in the body, and then partially metabolized into trace amounts of MAOIs. Thus, the PEA activates. I found chocolate highly stimulating long before I knew this.

    Serena wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  12. I don’t really like dark chocolate much. I don’t eat it; chocolate has always been about the sugar. And I’ve never craved it, not even the sweet stuff.

    Alice wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  13. Denise Minger sums up the diets that work for optimal health as:
    1. No processed grains
    2. No refined sugar
    3. No industrial oils
    How is chocolate ok if it isn’t 100% with no added refined sugars?

    Zach rusk wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  14. Palatable chocolate is candy i.e. Kiddie Crack. Sugar and Cocoa are appropriate topics following the holiday known for an over indulgence in “chocolate” resurrection rodents. Any addictive substance that is artificially laced with sweeteners may not qualify as a health food. I must admit, my weakness is the dark chocolate almond clusters. One is never enough.

    jack lea mason wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • That’s why I’m shifting to mescaline…

      Nocona wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  15. Three thoughts:

    1. one further potential problem with chocolate is histamine intolerance. Because of the tyramine content, people with histamine intolerance (DAO deficiency) can’t eat chocolate (that can also be the reason for migraines)

    2. if you want to get a chocolate kick without the calories, try making “hot chocolate” with just pure cocoa powder (baking cocoa). dissolve a teaspoon or two in a mug with hot water and enjoy!

    3. maybe I’m just weird, but I can happily eat a whole bar of 85%+ chocolate. love the stuff.

    matheus wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • I didn’t know about the tyramine-histamine link. Thanks for adding the DAO deficiency information! That’s really helpful.

      janitje wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • Histamine Intolerance can be caused by things other than DAO deficiency, but that is certainly one thing. DAO deficiency could be caused by a lack of Vitamin C, vitamin B6 and copper which all increase DAO activity or otherwise you may have a polymorphism which stops DAO being formed properly. If you have a DAO deficiency (there are tests available for this) & you do not lack the required nutrients, then you can get DAO supplements (isolated from pig kidney) (e.g. Histame, HistDAO or DAOsin) to help with food related histamine intolerance.

        Pancreatic enzymes may help some people & bromelain from pineapple also may help with histamine intolerance. It is best to avoid alcohol, as this reduces DAO activity & also some medications interfere with DAO activity.

        Certain probiotics & bacteria can stimulate histamine release & some degrade histamine. I believe that lactobacillus rhamnosus, l.salivarious & Bifidus Infantis (among others) are supposed to degrade it & ones like l.casei (among others) stimulate it.

        Christine wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  16. Dark chocolate is extremely high in oxalates, making it off-limits for anyone with a history of calcium oxalate kidney stones.

    Alice wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Various doc’s, including my urologist, told me to avoid high-oxalate foods. My reaction was “There go most of the healthy plant foods.” My primary card doc sent me to a nephrologist, which was mostly a waste of insurance money. But he told me to take some calcium when I eat high oxalates. (He said Tums but I usually add some dairy.) You *must* eat/take the calcium *at the same time* as the oxalates. They bind together in your intestines instead of your kidneys. There is research to support this.

      Harry Mossman wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • Harry, yes, I take powdered calcium with food (Tums is full of garbage like artificial colors). I have had success finding low or medium oxalate vegetables. I eat broccoli, dino kale, squash, cauliflower, root vegetables, cabbage and lettuces off the top of my head. After I used calcium and dairy with low to medium oxalate foods I was retested and my urine oxalate value was still a little too high, meaning oxalates were getting through despite the calcium, so I’m not going to overload with dark chocolate.

        Alice wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  17. I love dark chocolate. I find it’s great for telling my brain that a meal is over. Just a square or two shuts down the appetite (for a little while….).

    I’ve noticed some people essentially calling cacao poison, which doesn’t make sense to me. Why would it be so popular worldwide if that’s all it is? For all the good, there must be a little bad. The yin and yang of chocolate, if you will.

    Graham Ballachey wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • I’m a huge Weston A. Price Foundation supporter, but don’t agree with their ‘never touch chocolate’ manifesto.

      Nocona wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  18. I was not aware of the child slavery/source of chocolate part. Thank you for that.

    Sebastijan Veselic wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  19. Regarding migraines, I always thought it was the caffeine that brought them on, but apparently, it’s the opposite: a migraine is when blood vessels in the head contracting against the blood supply within, slowing down the flow. Caffeine makes those constricted blood vessels expand, aiding migraine relief. That’s why OTC migraine medicines contain both caffeine and an NSAID–both are vasodilators.

    The same thing (different area affected) happens in menstrual cramps, and coincidentally, the OTC medicines for those also contain the same combination of caffeine and NSAID–vasodilators–for the same reason.

    So why do people shell out money for both migraine relief pills AND menstrual cramp relief pills, when they’re both the same formula?

    I made an interesting discovery a few allergy seasons ago: my husband’s migraine pills worked GREAT on my painfully swollen nasal passages–I popped a couple of his Excedrin Migraine pills, and my nose quit feeling like somebody was shoving a dart up my nose, and later, I could actually breathe again. Since then, I quit buying all those OTC allergy meds (with the exception of Benadryl for food allergies).

    Wenchypoo wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  20. I love chocolate, crave it…..but only when I don’t get enough carbs & or calories (I am an ectomorph and we ectomorphs need more carbs than most people, who tend to be ectomorphs, mesomorphs or some combination of any of the three).

    However, when I do eat it, it is a terrible experience…after the chewing stops. I cannot eat even a single square of 72% dark, w/out terrible symptoms (becoming irritable, nose twitching, compulsive behavior, running my finger along my face where there might be a tiny, microscopic piece of flaky skin, insomnia, vivid nightmares, aggressive behavior). When it wears off, I experience blood sugar crashes (caffeine pulls sugar into the blood and can cause severe cravings for sugar/carbs/more chocolate/caffeine when it wears off), severe headaches (but only if the amount is large), and extreme fatigue. I cannot even eat 2 of Jason’s dark chocolate covered peanut butter cups. I cannot even drink DE-caffeinated tea…proof that the amount of caffeine in decaffeinated teas and coffees is still significant.

    My doctor said it is largely due to my low body weight (I’m female and 106 lbs, 5 ft 7). He said children often experience many of the same symptoms I do, when exposed to caffeine. I wonder if he’s right. Does anyone experience these effects? And think low body weight might be to blame? Just curious…

    LS wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Are you sure you need more carbs?? It sounds like you would benefit from more animal fat.

      Morgan wrote on April 28th, 2014
      • No, been having 15-20 pints of sugar free coconut frozen desert, fatty fish, dark chicken thighs & dark turkey legs & thighs, beef, ground bison, tons of olive oil, nuts, avocado…..I am 2-3 lbs over my natural weight of 104 (I am around 5 ft 6.5 or 5 ft 7)…too much fat has done this, never had cellulite on my buttocks before (not that it’s a lot, it’s a little but still…). And I know I need more carbs bc that’s what I crave, esp. on lift days, I lift weights.

        LS wrote on April 28th, 2014
      • Haha, that’s 15-20 pints a month…forget to put that in there. Also, don’t need more fat, my cholesterol has gone up from 120 to 244 since I’ve changed my diet to include all that fat…def. not more fat. Oh, and add Kettle chips in there too, which I have quit as of a couple months ago along w/ the coconut deserts. It will go down now…and those 2-3 lbs are about half gone…I am doing it slowly, since I don’t want to cut calories. Tried 1,200 a day diet and just didn’t stick to it, too low.

        LS wrote on April 28th, 2014
  21. Cacao powder? Does Cacao powder have the same properties and effects as chocolate? I know it is missing the cacao butter.

    michael wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • I always wonder this too it never seems substantial enough

      BFBVince wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Michael, I have the same concerns.
      I am wondering about taking the real (minimally processed) stuff: Raw Certified Organic Cacao Powder (I have settled on Healthworks, I like the taste over Navitas). I am now using 3 tbsp (4-5 days a week), 2 in the morning with my coffee, and 1 in the afternoon (with my coconut milk and whey protein), and only on the days I workout.
      I wonder if I might be taking a little too much.

      Aziz wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • I drink de-caf, and generally have gotten bored with coffee.

        So my coffee is a home-made cappuccino (de-caf), with a coffee spoon of cacao powder, 5 dashes of turmeric, a dash of pepper.

        Keeps it interesting and gets some good supplements too.

        My wife hates the taste.

        michael wrote on April 22nd, 2014
        • Hey, Michael, the new cluster of pimples on my face (never had anything like this) is a sign for me to dial down the dosage. I am going to take a break, then go back to one tbsp 5 days a week. Thanks!

          Aziz wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  22. These are the reasons why I make my own chocolate at home.
    Just high quality pure cocoa butter + unsweetened cocoa powder = 100% dark chocolate, but beats most 80-85% chocolates around.

    Primal_alex wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • I assume you just melt the two together – what percentage of cocoa butter to cacoa powder do you use? I might have to try this :)

      Catherine wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • I work with a scale: 200 grams of cocoa butter for 100 grams of unsweetened cocoa powder.

        Sometimes I add, either:
        - 50 grams of maple syrup, or
        - 25 grams of maple syrup and 25 grams of vanilla molasse
        I get a fantastic 85% dark chocolate without HFCS, soy lecithin or hydrogenated oils from unspecified vegetables.

        Adding more maple syrup (or anything liquid, I tried orange juice once) is not good, the risk is that the mix becomes uneven or doesn’t become solid at all and stays creamy, unless that’s what you are looking for of course.

        Primal_alex wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • Where do you buy your high quality pure cocoa butter? what brand?
      I make some “chocolate” mixing coconut oil and cocoa powder, then letting it set for a few minutes in the freezer.

      Natalie wrote on April 22nd, 2014
      • Chocolate with coconut oil is very good, too. Unfortunately it tends to stay creamy, so you can’t make a chocolate bar (but it is excellent for toppings).

        I live in Switzerland and I change sources often, so I wouldn’t know what to recommend. Good industrial butter and powder that you may find overthere are those from Barry Callebaut.

        Primal_alex wrote on April 22nd, 2014
        • Lucky you! You live in chocolate paradise!
          Regarding the creamy texture, that’s why I put it in the freezer (a thin layer) for a few minutes, until it starts to solidify, and eat it right away. I’ll look for Barry Callebaut products. Thanks.

          Natalie wrote on April 23rd, 2014
        • If you mix melted coconut oil and cocoa powder with some frozen shredded coconut and/or frozen pecan or walnut pieces it solidifies almost instantly. I make a single (small) serving in less than a minute and eat it with a spoon … like I’m doing right now. I used to add a bit of vanilla and Swerve but don’t bother with it anymore. Yum!

          Kate wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  23. I like the mood improvement. Some mornings are just too “dark” for me so a little square of really bitter chocolate does the trick. I was thinking of making a change to a cup of some 100% powder mixed with coconut oil, coconut milk and butter for a morning drink instead of coffee. Sounds good, maybe it will be good.

    2Rae wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  24. Great information. I eat one 88% square most mornings (sometimes two on the weekend … is it the weekend yet LOL), Endangered Species brand. Disappointing they did not make the slave-free list.

    George wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  25. Re migraines – migraines can be triggered by almost anything. Despite years of research, there’s not much that can be said about what causes them (blood vessel constriction, chemical imbalance etc). It basically depends what happens to be the trigger on any given day; what tips the balance between a good day, and a day hiding under the duvet. On some days I can eat 2 satsumas and nothing happens. On others, even the smell of orange triggers a migraine. Just an accumulation of things, and on that day, that’s what it was. I did find once that if I ate normal milk chocolate and drank tea at the same time that could trigger them…

    And although lots of people say “dark chocolate”, I have found that it’s anything (and I do mean “anything”) containing sugar. BUT, as Mark points out, it is proven that migraines can make sugar cravings worse, rather than just perhaps on that day acting as a trigger. Indeed, I was told by my specialist (I have suffered from migraines all my adult life – days like today are utterly miserable, but thankfully they’re relatively few and far between) to take my drugs dissolved in a sugary fizzy drink. Apparently they are absorbed faster. I used to have to eat pasta or toast when I had an attack. I cannot eat a “normal” palaeo meal (meat and veg). It makes me feel utterly ill. I now keep gluten free pasta (I know! I know!) for those bad days, and am getting better at eating “normally”.

    Now I love chocolate and sweeties and stuff, but I also love proper dark chocolate. But I cannot eat more than a square or so of dark chocolate. Which is A Good Thing in my view.

    Clare wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  26. Thanks for this write up! A great read summing up and clearing up relevant issues. I shall continue to enjoy my few squares of dark chocolate a day.

    Rebecca wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  27. Hotel Chocolat (in the UK) do dark choc up to 100% and milk choc with less sugar. It’s my 20% and I feel NO guilt at consuming it in moderation, especially when my only other sugar intake is a bit of honey here and there and occasional fruit.

    Tracy wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  28. I had a habit of eating Lindt 85% for a long time. I ate about 2 squares a day. This stuff will stain your teeth like crazy. It’ll come off with a few minutes of brushing with a whitening toothpaste (which I don’t use regularly) or at a dental cleaning but it also costs you some enamel. Its slow but adds up over time.

    balor123 wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  29. Great article and highly informative! Thank you for this :)

    meg wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  30. As someone who makes had crafted, small batch, artisan made Mexican style chocolate I feel I must speak up!

    People throw around the term “dark chocolate” without knowing what they are talking about. According to chocolate industry standards, dark chocolate is simply chocolate containing no milk solids. One of the chocolates I make at Chiammaya Custom Crafted Chocolate is more than 65% sugar yet it is still dark chocolate. ALL of my chocolate is made with only four ingredients, organic cacao beans from south and Central America, organic cinnamon, almonds and sugar.

    I make four blends 32% cacao, 42% cacao and 71% cacao. Still more sugar than Mark would like but if I had enough interest I could make 85% or more bars.

    Yes, it is the right thing to so to know the source of your chocolate but it is also important to know the definitions of what you are speaking.

    Walt Lewis wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  31. I enjoy dark chocolate but I don’t eat it very often. I think that for me, chocolate is unique in that it is the only food I can think of where the more bitter it is, the more I like it. Most foods I can’t stand if there is even a hint of bitterness. I’ve always wondered if this is an indicator of a broken carb metabolism.

    Chris wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  32. Chocolate is definitely a natural “love drug.” I’ve interviewed several chocolate makers who equate themselves to drug dealers, as they make people feel good with their delicious products. Works for me!

    Doreen Pendgracs wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  33. Thanks for the great article Mark! It’s always good to have a reminder that dark chocolate is CANDY after all. Around the holidays I love to make raw truffles with cacao powder, cacao butter, hazelnuts and dates. Yum!! Other times of the year I try to buy my chocolate in individually wrapped squares to keep my ‘chocolate monster’ under control :)

    Lauren wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  34. I can’t agree with your closing comment that “dark chocolate is ultimately candy.” I think that if one sources chocolate bars made of pure, dark chocolate of at least 70% cocoa and preferably higher, you are indeed eating a healthy food if consumed in moderation. I always tell people to read the labels on their chocolate. If sugar is the first ingredient, put it down! If the bar contains only cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and a small amount of organic cane sugar, I think you’re doing your mind and body a favour by consuming a small amount daily.

    Doreen Pendgracs wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  35. May I recommend… Vivani 92% cocoa Peruvian. It’s the best.

    Kate wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  36. I JUST sat down to enjoy a square while checking your blog for the daily post….HA! What are the odds.

    Ashley wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  37. Dark chocolate gives me heart palpitations. I have to be very careful how much I eat or else I’ll have palpitations for days. Not fun and definitely not worth it.

    Laura wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • I have the same problem. A few small pieces and my heart is racing like mad, I’m very shaky and feel terrible!

      Michelle wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  38. Methylxanthines! That’s the key word missing here. Chocolate, caffeine and cola all contain this stimulating substance which is cleared by liver enzyme C-P450. I have quite a few clients who muscle-test weak on the xanthine family.
    If one is weak, they all are. Try staying of chocolate, caffiene and colas for a month then adding back slowly. If headaches occur or other new or old signs, it’s the xanthines.

    Beverly Meyer wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  39. According to migraines triggered by chocolate – I used to have very bad migranes, which were lasting for about 3 days, painkillers weren’t working or couldn’t help because of vomiting just after taking it. I’ve noticed the coincidence of eating yellow cheese and my episodes of migrane, so I quit eating it. I also quit eating chocolate, because of its “bad fame”. But still, I was having my migranes at least one a month.

    I’ve been Primal now for about 4 months. During this period of time I had one episode of mild headache (I didn’t have to take any pills, just wasn’t feeling comfortable). I eat chocolate almost every day. I eat cheese. The only difference is that I’m grain free and I’ve reduced carbs intake (it was the hardest part!).

    So maby grains are the silent migraine trigger. After all, “migraine” has the word “grain” in it. Just sayin’ ;)

    Mar wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  40. Mark forgot one detail regarding the “amphetamine-like chemical” phenylethylamine: it’s quickly metabolized by monoamine oxidase, hence monoamine oxidase inhibitors. So, the small amount of phenylethylamine in chocolate seems to be benign.

    Joelwlcx wrote on April 22nd, 2014
    • I think he did mention that.

      Morgan wrote on April 28th, 2014

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