Chocolate: The Bitter Truth

With warm weather upon us my chocolate cravings have been long gone. I always felt that the warming treat has its place in colder months but that it was completely out of place for my Pitta nature in the summer. Also the more present I become in my body, the more sensitive I am to the stimulating nature of chocolate ( I am talking about the really dark varieties without processed sugar. In milk chocolate with lots of processed ingredients, the stimulating effect can come mostly from sugar, not the cacao itself. The quality of that stimulation will be very different).

While I don’t think I am in any position to tell you to eat or not to eat your chocolate, I do love to help my clients and my readers to broaden their understanding of particular foods, practices, and their body. I am sure you have read multiple articles on chocolate based on the Western understanding of micro-nutrients contained in it. This article is an ayurvedic view of chocolate. I invited my dear friend, an MD and an auyrvedic practitioner Vrinda Devani to share her ayurvedic wisdom on this favorite food of ours.

Is chocolate good for you?

As in most cases, the ancient science of Ayurveda would say, it depends. chocolate

Rather than getting caught up in the research and medical jargon that dominate most discussions on chocolate, let us simplify and bring clarity by looking at chocolate from the viewpoint of taste and the three energies of the body—vata (ether and air elements), pitta (mainly the fire element), and kapha (water and earth elements).

Pure cocoa, the bean that chocolate is made from, is strikingly bitter (just try 80% cocoa versus milk chocolate which is often barely more than 10% cocoa). It was not until cocoa become popular in Europe a few centuries ago that chocolate was mixed with sugars and milk. Until then, cocoa was used as a culinary bitter spice.

Bitter is one of six tastes in Ayurveda (along with sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and astringent). Like each of the tastes, bitter has very specific actions in the body. Bitter largely brings about the cool, light, and dry qualities in the body. As such, Ayurveda says that it has anti-toxic, anti-inflammatory, fever reducing, laxative, reducing, and cleansing actions.[1]

It is therefore this bitter quality that gives all of those health benefits we have been reading about. It is true. Raw, unprocessed, unsweetened cocoa will decrease oxidation and inflammation through its flavonoid content[2], reduce increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and decrease LDL (the “bad cholesterol”)[3], and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.[4]

Notice, it is the bitter taste of pure, unprocessed, unsweetened cocoa; not the sweet taste found in processed and sweetened chocolates (which, by the way, is the vast majority of chocolate you will find in your grocery store—even the most “natural” and dark ones)! The sweet taste is actually quite building and heavy in nature and all of the extra additives in today’s chocolate that make it sweet (sugar, soy lecithin, milk byproducts) build toxins (ama) in our body. Plus, the scientists in those studies were looking at very moderate consumption of pure cocoa (about one small square piece a few times a week).

Like all foods, think of chocolate as medicine. It is fantastic when used appropriately.

If you would like to use chocolate for its potential benefits, here are some tips based on your dosha.

(You can get a better sense of the proportion of these energies in your body by taking this free constitution test.)

  1. Because the vata type of individual already has the qualities of cold, dry, and light that accompany the bitter taste in them (often in excess), it is unlikely that they would really benefit from chocolate. Plus, chocolate does contain caffeine, which can easily derange the light, subtle, and mobile qualities of vata. So, while a little naturally sweetened chocolate (like with dried fruits or Stevia as opposed to refined sugar or milk byproducts) may be fine for the vata individual, having very moderate amounts is important.
  2. On the other hand, if you have a lot of kapha (excess weight, congestion, edema) or excess pitta (heat, inflammation, skin issues) in your body, then a nibble of raw chocolate (which you would likely have to buy from an independent producer—see below) certainly may help to cool you down and to counter the heavy and moist qualities.
  3. The only caveat for our pitta folks is that chocolate does have some caffeine, which can significantly aggravate pitta.

Here are some general tips for choosing the right chocolate for you.

      1. Choose dark chocolate (ideally, 70% cocoa or more) for the health benefits mentioned above. The darker, the better.
      2. If you are struggling with a sweet craving and but still want the health benefits of chocolate, try taking Sweet Ease (a couple tablets twice daily) which is great for helping you maintain a healthy sweet intake throughout the day. You can also eat a piece of fruit with your chocolate.
      3. Look at the label and make sure it is made from cocoa’s natural cocoa butter instead of other oils, such as vegetable oils and fats.
      4. If you are taking chocolate for its health benefits (such as its antioxidant benefits) do not choose milk chocolate or do not eat it with milk, since milk prevents the absorption of the beneficial flavonoids in cocoa.
      5. Moderation is the key. The sweet spot is 7 ounces (or 54 grams) a week.[5]
      6. You may want to avoid chocolate if you suffer from kidney stones (since cocoa contains oxalates), if you struggle with migraines (cocoa increases tyramine which is though to trigger migraines in some individuals), or if you have a heart arrhythmia or are sensitive to caffeine (cocoa does contain some amount of caffeine).[6]

Ayurveda always sheds light on confusing topics like this for me. Knowing your body and how it uniquely responds to different foods, including the beloved chocolate, can guide you to making conscious choices that will leave you feeling uplifted, clairvoyant, and happy.

What are your thoughts and feeling on chocolate? Do you find it warming or stimulating? Do you notice the subtle effect of chocolate on your mood or energy?

If you found this article helpful or interesting, please send the link to your chocolate-loving friends!

[1] Vasant D Lad. Textbook of Ayurveda: Volume 1. (Albuquerque, NM: The Ayurvedic Press; 2002), page 247.

[2] Monagas M, et al. Effect of cocoa powder on the modulation of inflammatory biomarkers in patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90(5):1144-50.

[3] Yasuda A, et al. Cacao Polyphenols Influence the Regulation of Apolipoprotein in HepG2 and Caco2 Cells. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2011;59(4):pp. 1470-1476.

[4] Buitrago-Lopez A, et al. Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2011;343:4488.

[5] Mandy Oaklander. Should I Eat Dark Chocolate?, Time, accessed May 12, 2015,

[6] Healing Foods Pyramid: Dark Chocolate. University of Michigan, accessed May 12, 2015.

As a board-certified OB/GYN, Vrinda Devani MD has a passion for women’s health and empowering all, men and women alike, towards vibrant health and living. She is a believer in unfolding the human body’s innate potential through the glorious science of Ayurveda and other holistic forms of healing. She enjoys every moment as a writer and Director of Research for Banyan Botanicals , a premier Ayurveda lifestyle company, and loves to serve her clients in her Ayurveda practice in the sweet town of Lubbock, TX.

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