Chocolate & The Dark Side of Health Hacks

I eat dark chocolate almost every day. Correction I used to. It was one of my last guilty pleasures, although according to most press its not so guilty; high in iron, magnesium, copper and full of anti-oxidants. Clinical trials suggest it may improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, help prevent against heart disease and improve cognitive function. The only apparent downside being a high fat content and some sugar, although this drops as the cocoa content rises.

What I didn’t know till recently is that dark chocolate can contain quite high levels of lead and cadmium – both heavy metals that in sufficient quantities are harmful to health. These metals are derived from the soil the cocoa bean is grown in, meaning that some brands will contain higher levels than others, depending on where the cocoa bean is grown. At least one prominent organic dark chocolate brand in the UK has a potentially dangerously high level of both metals.

The heavy metal in these chocolates will build up over time, like a Vitamin but one who’s effects are deleterious to life rather than life-enhancing. This is a strong enough demotivating factor for me to have kicked this habit to the curb – for the last 7 days at least. I’m not saying I’ll never eat it, but I’ll eat it sparingly. A motivating factor is super important when looking to quit or take up any new habit. I don’t want to have high levels of heavy metal in my body so I’m now going to go easy on the dark chocolate.

In terms of health I think I fell for the old trick of thinking that chocolate had no negative effects. Its compelling for me – it tastes really good and apparently does no harm. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If it seems too good to be true it usually is. Health “hacks” such as eating dark chocolate are attractive because they imply that we can continue as normal and just do this one thing to maintain optimal health. Just drink celery juice for 7 days to detox your liver. Great, but celery is likely to have some of the highest pesticide levels of any vegetable. Mega-dose Vitamin D to ward off cancer. But too much Vitamin D can create a build up of calcium in the blood and lead to Kidney problems. Just do 15 minute of high intensity exercise a day. Ignoring that an unconditioned body may get injured easier.

It can be tempting to give up. It’s all so confusing and there’s so much conflicting advice, how can you be sure you’re living a healthy life? I think there’s a potential simple answer. By looking at those populations that live longer healthy lives we can learn how to eat and live for a longer healthier life. These populations tend to eat very healthily – mostly plant based, non-processed, don’t overeat, drink alcohol infrequently, walk a lot, tend to live near hills and engage with the community for their mental health. They aren’t popping vitamins, doing press ups till they drop or scoffing dark chocolate. Just leading a simple life, relatively free from stress.