Does dark chocolate have a “dark side”?

Q. You wrote about eating dark chocolate and said to make sure to get chocolate without added calories, fats and sugar. Where would you get such a thing?

Dr. Micozzi:

The key to reaping the benefits of dark chocolate is to maximize the cacao content while minimizing the sugar and other ingredients. The plant biochemicals in cacao are great for your body, but those positives can be negated when you overload them with excess calories and sugar. The good news is, health food producers and retailers seem to have caught on , and now low (or no) sugar, high-cacao chocolates and cocoa powders are available in virtually all grocery stores. Look for at least 65% up to 85% cacao content. For hot chocolate use low-fat milk (1%) which will make a rich brew. No need to sweeten. Remember many people like the taste of darker chocolates once they try them (see the Daily Dispatch “Why bitter is better” from January 10, 2014).

While we’re talking about chocolate, I thought I’d mention another comment on the topic. I recently received a note from a reader who developed a kidney stone after a year of eating dark chocolate daily. He believed the kidney stone was caused by chocolate’s oxalic acid content.

I doubt it, and here’s why.

It’s true chocolate has some oxalic acid. That said, regular teas, such as green and black teas have much higher levels of oxalic acid. In fact long-term tea drinking has been clearly associated with the development of kidney stones. In addition to their oxalic acid content they also dehydrate you—a major risk for kidney stones.

It generally takes a long time to develop kidney stones. It would be very surprising to find regular dietary consumption of cacao for one year could cause development of a clinically significant kidney stone, in of itself. Kidney stones develop for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine is often too quick to blame any natural product for problems that occur. Meanwhile they should be looking at all the possible contributing factors, including diet, drugs, and lifestyle.

So don’t give up on chocolate—or it’s health benefits. Stick with the dark or unsweetened varieties, and you should be just fine.