Put down that Twix. And the $14 dark chocolate bar, too. They’re both evil and neither will stop a heart attack.
Health food advocates have turned cocoa into a “superfood”—a buzz word meaning precisely nothing— and it’s all thanks to the faux science of the chocolate industry. And speaking of the chocolate industry: all your Halloween chocolate was made using cocoa harvested by children.
“But what if I promise to only buy hippy dippy, ethically sourced dark chocolate with nuts and stuff?”
C’mon. It’s Halloween. You’re going to eat candy. If you’re a parent, you’re trick-or-treating. Or you’re going to parties and bars with jack-o’-lantern buckets full of chocolate confections that sure aren’t fair trade. This story is for you.
This month, Vox investigated the “research” into the “health benefits” of chocolate. Not surprisingly, most of it is funded by chocolate companies like Mars and Nestlé. The “scientific” wing of Mars has released over 140 peer-reviewed studies arguing cocoa improves focus and assists cardiovascular function and more. The overwhelming majority of results say cocoa is practically a miracle cure.
But chocolate isn’t a health food. Not even that super liberal dark chocolate, with owls and bats on the wrapper, will help you live forever. Which is the point of all this, let’s be honest.
The few non-industry studies on the cocoa have noted a small drop in blood pressure but mostly with patients predisposed to low blood pressure anyhow. Researchers also saw no evidence that cocoa prevents heart attacks. Moreover, the process of refining cocoa into chocolate eliminates the flavanols that contribute to the drop in blood pressure. That the milk and sugar in most chocolate bars is bad for you is fairly intuitive but even that unsweetened dark chocolate you’re gnawing on, at best, does nothing for your health.
This wouldn’t be the first time the food industry has funded research to propagate health myths. The “Got Milk” campaign turned a boring beverage with no health benefits into a central part of the food pyramid; the food pyramid itself was a fraud; eggs yolks are not bad for you; “low fat” will not make you skinny.
So it’s not surprising that the chocolate industry would attempt the same shenanigans. But it’s shocking how much it has worked. The heart health campaign is so successful that Mars releases cocoa supplements, to complete your “wellness journey.” The company that makes all possible combinations of nougat, chocolate, peanuts, caramel and cookies peddles pseudo-medicinal vitamins.
But okay, you don’t care. You say Snickers are so delicious, they’re worth whatever adverse effects on your body. But like so much of what we consume, the chocolate industry profits off what the Ivorian government calls “the worst forms of child labor.”
As of last year, 70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, with 60 percent of that from Ivory Coast and Ghana where child laborers harvest cocoa beans for American trick-or-treaters. In the past two decades, the issue has slipped in and out of public awareness. Every few years, new reports of horrific working conditions—children born into chocolate farming never attend school, children trafficked to Ivory Coast, locked in sheds and beaten, harvesting cocoa with bare hands and machetes—work citizens into fury.
There’s a pattern to the complaints. First, politicians condemn the chocolate industry for allowing such inhuman treatment. Then the industry promises to do better. People forget and in a few years, little changes. In 2005, Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel and then-Democratic Rep. Tom Harkin proposed the Harkin-Engel protocol, pressuring chocolate producers to eliminate or at least significantly reduce child slave labor. Over ten years later, not much has changed. A study from Tulane University found a 21 percent increase in child labor over the previous five years.
Engel’s response to the slow progress on the part of chocolate manufacturers? “I guess I need to prod them more.” Really motivational stuff.
I get it. It’s hard to keep track of what isn’t made with illegal, immoral labor. The blame lies with the industry and the government for not doing more to stop it. But consider the jerk who hands out toothbrushes instead of candy. Go easy on them. And try not eating those Reese’s.