The Paradox of Chocolate’s Health Benefits

This modern ad encourages its audience to refuel with chocolate milk after working out.

Chocolate has been ubiquitous in our society not only for its taste but also for its health benefits. In more recent years, there have been many advertisements in which athletes with sweats beading in their foreheads are shown chugging chocolate milk after their workout. Such trend goes back to the era of Hershey’s, Mars and Cadbury, the giant chocolate industries competing with each other for monopoly and pressing for greater market. Their packages and posters display that chocolate is “healthy,” which persuade guilt-ridden consumers into justifying their consumption of such delicious dessert. Modern educated consumers who learn that the chocolate companies, especially in the United States, barely include few chocolate nibs per chocolate bars realize that the health benefits touted by Hershey’s in their advertisements are only a fluke. Hershey’s chocolate bars barely meet FDA’s baseline for labeling the product “chocolate” and cannot possibly claim that such extremely refined products provide the same benefits cacao beans do (Wolke, 2004). There is no doubt that the companies’ use of health benefits of “chocolate”—which in fact, is health benefits of cacao beans—is spurred by marketing strategies and greed for greater consumer market. However, there has been a long history of “chocolate” used as an allopathic medicine before it was contaminated by the unnecessary amount of sugar, which stripped away benefits and medicinal qualities of chocolate in modern society.

Hershey’s advertisement illustrates that its chocolate syrup is “stepping stone[s] to HEALTH.”
In its birthplace, chocolate was incorporated into Aztecs’ and Incans’ lives not only due to the symbolic meaning that chocolate holds but because of its medicinal benefits. Friar Bernardino de Sahagun recorded the various uses in curing various bodily complaints in Florentine Codex (Dillinger et al., 2060s). Chocolate was further incorporated into the field of medicine as it was incorporated into the Galenic Humoral Theory, which stated that health is achieved by balancing four types of fluids in our body: hot, cold, dry and wet. Francisco Hernandez, a physician-botanist, labeled cacao beans to have cold and dry properties and prescribed chocolate to patients complaining various ailments. For example, a person with melancholy, a cold-dry disease, is instructed to drink lukewarm chocolate drink with anise seeds (Wilson & Hurst, 2012). From 17th to 19th century, various physicians continued to adopt and build upon the medicinal qualities of chocolate that was started by the Mesoamericans recorded. Modern research that deciphered the chemical makeup of cacao affirms various health benefits of chocolate that ancient scholars recorded and used to benefit the ill (Lippi, 2013).

However, the medicinal use of chocolate took an ironic as sugar was introduced into both chocolate and medicine. As cacao was substituted by sugar to mask the bitterness of the cacao and to lure more consumers, they almost seemed to blur together into a single entity, at least in big chocolate companies. For example, chocolate was depicted to became a vehicle for medicine in the movie Princess Bride when Miracle Max is being coated in chocolate to “help medicine go down,” which harkens back to Mary Poppin’s popular phrase, “a spoonful of sugar helps medicine go down.”

It is then perhaps the unfortunate blurred lines between sugar and chocolate by the chocolate industry that chocolate lost its medicinal qualities that were well-documented and sought before 20th century. In medicine, chocolate becomes a paradox of a beverage with a potential to deliver health benefits to our body, yet losing its benefits by chocolate industries false advertisements.

Works Cited:

Dillinger, Teresa L., Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escarcega, Martha Jiminez, Diana Lowe, and Louis Grivetti. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition (2000): 2057S-072S. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Hurst, W Jeffrey & Wilson, Phillip K. Chocolate as Medicine: A Quest Over the Centuries. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2012.
Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients (2013): 1573-1584. Web. 19 Feb 2015.

Wolke, Robert L. “Chocolate by the Numbers.” Washington Post, 2004.

Multimedia sources:

Modern ad:

Princess Bride:

Hershye’s ad:


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