I generally advise against eating refined sugar. I, personally, eat hardly any, but I do eat some. Practically all of this comes in the form of 85 per cent cocoa chocolate. I, for quite some time now, have been recommending dark chocolate as a sweet treat of choice. Firstly, dark chocolate is generally lower in sugar than milk or white varieties. Another boon, I think, that dark chocolate offers is that it lacks the morishness that other forms of chocolate tend to have. This is good news for individuals (such as I) who might to ensure that a little treat doesn’t turn into a big one. Dark chocolate is also relatively rich in plant substances known as ‘flavonols’ that have been linked with benefits for cardiovascular health.
However, if the results of a newly published study are to be believed, another benefit of eating dark chocolate might be protection from the potentially damaging effects of the sun’s rays . I am a huge fan of sunshine, both in terms of psychological and physical benefits it brings, it is not entirely without risk. While I think the link between sunlight exposure and malignant melanoma has been generally overstated (see here for more about this), excess sunlight can burn the skin and damage it in a way that can cause visible ageing. In general terms, I advise seeking shade and donning appropriate clothing to protect against sun damage. But at the same time, it is possible to afford protection from the inside too (see here for some thoughts about this).
The study I’m writing about today tested the effect of dark chocolate rich in flavanols on the ability of the skin to withstand sunburn. There were 30 subjects in the study. Half of them ate 20 g of chocolate rich in flavanols each day. The other half ate the same amount of low-flavanol chocolate. The study lasted 12 weeks.
At the beginning and end of the study subjects had their skin exposed to UV light. The dose of light required to induce redness (known as the minimal erythema dose or MED) was assessed.
In those eating low-flavanol chocolate, there was no different in MED over the course of the study. On the other hand, the individuals eating high-flavanol chocolate saw their MEDs double on average. This study suggests that eating high-flavanol chocolate has some capacity to protect the skin from the potentially damaging effects of the sun’s rays.
I have no idea how one might ensure that the chocolate one eats is rich in flavanols. However, because the flavanols are found in cocoa, dark chocolate is going to offer up more in the flavanols than other varieties (and the darker the better).
1. Williams S, et al. Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 2009;8(3):169-173