Skepticism

Wishful Thinking

I was taking another look at my favorite blog resource, iVillage, this morning. I once again found the blog of the self-described Grrl Genius, this time reporting on the launch of a new chocolate bar marketed to be healthy.
Chocolate

I don’t want it to seem as though I’m just constantly picking on this woman, but it just so happens that she’s shilling for yet another product targeted toward women making some pretty crazy claims. Let’s all get one thing straight — no matter how much you wish and pray and hope, chocolate will not become a health food, just like Cookie Crisp will never become an appropriate choice of cereal for a full-grown adult. I’ll give you a second to think about that and come to terms with what it means.

Okay? Good.

The Grrrrrrrl Genius says:

Scientific studies have conclusively proven not only that the flavanols in chocolate lowers bad cholesterol and chocolate is also rich in cancer fighting antioxidants, but more importantly, it is an effective mood elevator for women.

This is pretty much true. Flavonoids are very good for you — they’re the healthy thingies in red wine and green tea, and they can be potent in chocolate. Pure, untouched chocolate. Pure, untouched, bitter chocolate. Oh, did I mention that flavonoids are incredibly bitter, and that’s why they’re often removed from chocolate before it starts melting in your mouth?

ChocolateSo the problem arrives when you start chucking a bunch of fat, sugar, and milk into the chocolate to make it deliciously edible. Even drinking milk with dark chocolate may negatively affect the flavonoids. Any benefit you do get from the flavonoids in chocolate is very likely to be negated by the resulting weight gain you experience from your new “healthy” diet.

Amazingly, according to this New York Times article from last October, Mars (the maker of CocoVita) recommended (or may still recommend) that people consume at least two servings a day of their chocolate bars. That can mean up to 280 calories a day worth of chocolate, just to extract the same health benefits of a zero calorie cup of green tea.

From the New York Times article:

Mars says it plans more healthful offerings. It recently established a separate division to develop nutritional foods and drinks aimed at weight management and “energy and performance,” said Mr. Cass, the marketing chief.

“This was never about, ‘How do we sell more chocolate?’ ” he said. “We just happened to start with chocolate because we had intellectual property around cocoa. Over time we will look to fulfill the needs of our consumers that expand well beyond chocolate.”

Chocolat

Now, I don’t want to say that Mr. Cass is a god damned lying ass clown, because that would be mean and possibly lawsuit-worthy. Instead, I’ll merely question his statement and put forth my own hypothesis, that it was always about, “How do we sell more chocolate?” Or to be fair, maybe it was always about, “How do we make more money?” Because it’s a business, and that’s what businesses do. I just wish they’d stop their sneaky misleading anti-science bullshit to do it.

By the way, before you call me some sort of nutrition Nazi, I’d wilt and die without chocolate. Eat your chocolate. Just don’t confuse it with health food.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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5 Comments

  1. I'm with you on this one. If there's one topic that gets over analyzed/rationalized to evidence a top-down ideology – it's nutrition. I've done a good deal of reading/research on nutrition and I've found that only real diet that works (from a weight loss and nutritional perspective) is "EAT LESS, EXERCISE MORE". (Not that I'm an expert…that's just my provisional conclusion based on what I know to date). Most of the books that outline diets in more words than that are detailed plans whose aim is to make lots of money by giving people what they want – a way to lose weight and still eat whatever you want. Atkins is my favorite example. There's a lot of controversy surrounding the health consequences of this diet, so I won't say anything conclusive BUT I will say that my own common sense suspects that while eating cheese, pepperoni, pork rinds, and McDonald's hamburger's without the bun may help you lose weight, you're eliminating a lot of "evil carbs" that your body needs. I find highly suspect a diet that recommends severe limitations of fruits and whole grains in favor of burgers and pork rinds. But anyway…almost off topic there…no matter how the media go about rationalizing which foods we should be eating and why, to date I have found that eating a preponderance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains…and getting some exercise is the way to go. Also, I believe that it's your overall diet that makes a difference in your health and weight, not any individual meal…so treat yourself to chocolate…have a big Thanksgiving dinner…just be smart about it and make that on balance your eating a preponderance of the items mentioned above. It's as simple as that. (IMHO)

  2. Damn you. I love chocolate and now you have taken away my excuse to eat it. You aren't supposed to read the whole scientific article, just the parts that allow you to believe your most fervent hopes and desires. Next you'll say that drinking a whole bottle of red wine at every meal is bad for you too.

  3. When Abe Lincoln was practicing law, he once cross examined a witness for the other side named John Cass. The first question Abe asked was, "Mind if I call you Jack?"

  4. Mmmm! And did anyone else get the reference in the last picture of the guitar-pickin' longhair? It's from that delightful movie "Chocolat"…

    I grew up living near Cadbury's factory in Australia. Hasn't affected me at all, all 120kgs of me (work it out – 2.2lbs to the kg…).

  5. Chocolate is a vegetable, isn't it? Since it's a bean. So just eat your beans and feel good.

    Actually, as far as diet goes, I think one piece of advice the doctor will give people who've lost a lot of weight after a severe illness or surgery, is eating lots of fruit. It seems that fruit will help you gain weight if you're underweight, and help you lose weight if you're too heavy. Almost as if our bodies were meant to eat a lot of fruit. How weird …

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