Continuing EducationHomestudyNutritionPsychology

Chocolate: Junk, Nutrition or Medicine?

By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.


Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to “discover” chocolate. In 1502, during Columbus’ fourth voyage to the New World, he and his crew found what they called “almonds” in a canoe they had captured. Taken back to Europe, the cacao beans were initially overlooked by the Spanish royalty, who were more interested in gold and other valuable treasures.

Nowadays, people generally consider chocolate to be a tasty treat, a fattening indulgence, an irresistible hedonistic pleasure, and even a mood-altering substance. In one survey of college students’ attitudes toward chocolate, 81% perceived chocolate as fattening and 54% perceived it to be unhealthy. Few seriously consider chocolate in terms of its nutritional value. However, for most of chocolate’s history in human culture, long before humans were equipped to decipher the chemical make-up of the beans from Theobroma cacao, chocolate was considered not only a nutritional powerhouse but also a medicinal food.

Research shows positive claims for the medicinal uses of cacao over the centuries. These include uses of:

  • Chocolate eaten as an antidote to everything from anemia, angina, poor appetite, asthma and poor breast milk production, to constipation, fever, hangovers, hemorrhoids, pain, syphilis, low virility, vomiting, and worms.
  •  Preparations of cacao bark eaten to reduce abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea.
  • Cacao butter/fat/oil, used as a food or applied externally, for bronchitis, respiratory distress, and wound healing, among other ailments.
  • Cacao flower, used in baths, infusions, or applied directly to the skin, to soothe toothache pain, reduce fatigue, and treat burns.
  • Cacao fruit pulp, eaten, to facilitate childbirth.
  • Cacao leaf, applied externally to stop excessive bleeding and disinfect wounds.

Chocolate has the unique ability to induce pleasure and satisfaction in many people in a way that few other foods can. And based on current knowledge, it is safe to say that, for most people, this favorite snack or dessert food will not adversely affect health or add to risk for any major health problems. On the contrary, chocolate may actually have health benefits.

Learn More about chocolate and the benefits from indulging with our homestudy course.