Can Chocolate Help Protect You From Harmful Effects of UV Exposure?

Health Writer
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There’s good news for all of us chocolate lovers. Research shows that women who were given a certain chocolate drink reduced their skin sensitivity to UV light.

In the study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, women were given either a chocolate drink that was high in flavanols or one that contained a lesser amount. The women that consumed a higher level of flavanols had a 15 percent reduction in skin sensitivity to UV light after six weeks. When tested again after 12 weeks, this increased to a 25 percent reduction in photosensitivity.

In recent years, scientists have found that what you eat might affect your sensitivity to sunlight; for example, I recently reported on a study that found eating tomatoes might help reduce your risk of skin cancer. In this study, the researchers pointed to carotenoids, which are pigmenting cells that give tomatoes their color. Carotenoids are antioxidants, which may help prevent skin damage from unstable molecules known as free radicals. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, contain flavanols, which are also antioxidants.

What are flavanols?

Also called flava-3-ols, they are a type of flavonoid. They are found in a variety of foods such as cocoa, green tea, berries, and apples. They have been found to improve blood vessel function according to another study. They may help maintain healthy brain function, according to another study, published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences.

How much chocolate do I need to eat?

Flavanols are most abundant in unprocessed foods, such as berries and apples. Processing can destroy the flavanols, which is why many chocolates don’t contain enough to provide any benefit. Dark chocolate contains more flavanols than milk chocolate and generally, the higher the percentage of cacao, the better. But processing is important as well. When chocolate is processed with alkali, which is known as dutching, a larger percentage of flavanols are destroyed.

You can check the labels to find out whether this type of processing was used. This type of processing is used to darken the coloring and reduce the bitterness, and it might be hard to find commercial chocolate that isn’t processed this way. ConsumerLab.com tested a number of different chocolate products for flavanols and according to their research, the three products that contained the most flavanols are:

  • Baker’s unsweetened chocolate for baking

  • Endangered Species Natural Dark 88 percent Cacao

  • Ghirardelli Intense Dark Twilight Delight 72 percent Cacao

Even if you stick to these brands, it’s difficult to say how much chocolate you need to consume each day. The researchers of the study published in the Journal of Nutrition indicated that the female participants were given flavanols equal to what you would find in 100 grams of dark chocolate. But based on info from ConsumerLab.com, this amount varies based on processing and the percentage of cacao in the chocolate.

Right now, we don’t know by looking at a label how much flavanols we are getting. But, if research continues to show that flavanols are an important part of our nutritional needs, this information might be included on nutritional labels. Eating chocolate might not only be an indulgence, but a healthy option.

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