It's the Easter Holidays, the bunny has worked his magic, and you suddenly find your kitchen fruit bowl full of chocolate eggs! Are they really so terrible for our skin?
Back in the sixties, several research groups explored the relationship between chocolate and acne. The largest study conducted at the time, involved sixty five patients. Research compared the effects of chocolate consumption to a placebo over a one month period, and found no difference in acne severity. Based on studies such as this one, dermatologists concluded that diet did not trigger or worsen skin conditions. However, researchers recently re-examined this research and found methodological flaws.
Whilst it might not make for happy reading when you're staring at a bowl brimming with chocolate eggs, research has provided strong support for diet as a potential cause of acne. More recent studies have substantiated the role of specific food groups, such as dairy, as well overall dietary patterns such as the high glycemic load typical of the Western diet.
Dermatologists should no longer dismiss the association between diet and skin conditions, however, often many are still unaware of extensive new research proving these significant correlations.
One of the biggest problematic ingredients in chocolate when it comes to our skin, is dairy. This 2018 study was performed to estimate the association of dairy intake and acne in children, adolescents, and young adults. It concluded that dairy produce, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, was associated with an increase in acne amongst those tested. If you struggle with blemishes or any inflammatory skin condition, choosing a dark chocolate without milk solids would be a healthier option since you're immediately eliminating milk.
When it comes to eczema, scientists believe our gut health plays an important role in the flares we see on the skin's surface. The protein component of dairy foods can have an impact on our gut, both by triggering an allergic reaction in some people, but also by causing non-allergic internal inflammation. According to a 2016 study, this inflammatory response appears to be stronger with the type of protein found in cow's milk.
Most babies can digest milk without suffering from an upset stomach, thanks to an enzyme called lactase. Up until several thousand years ago, that enzyme switched off once a person grew into adulthood, meaning most adults used to be lactose intolerant (unable to digest the sugar in milk). It was a genetic mutation that enabled some of us to be able to consume dairy as adults, but despite this around 75% of the world's population still lose this ability, and for these people continuing to drink milk or to eat foods with milk as a key ingredient can cause gut inflammation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating.
It isn't just acne that can flare or be triggered by chocolate. Last year a study by UC Davis Health researchers found that a Western diet high in fat and sugar may lead to inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis. The study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, suggests that specific dietary components, as opposed to solely obesity itself, could lead to skin inflammation and the development of psoriasis.
Sugar can be equally triggering for spots and blemishes. One study found that people who frequently consumed added sugars had a 30% greater risk of developing acne.
When we consume high carbohydrate or high sugar foods, our insulin levels spike rapidly. It's this insulin rise that increases hormone activity and boosts insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Multiple studies suggest that this contributes to acne development, because it in turn increases the production of sebum - the oil produced by our body's sebaceous glands.
So, Why do we Hear Chocolate is Good For Us?
Every now and again you'll see an article pop up in the mainstream tabloids citing that chocolate is full of benefits. Indeed food and drinks made from the beans of the Theobroma cacao tree have been consumed by humans for medicinal purposes since at least as early as 460 AD.
These cacao beans are the raw ingredient in chocolate and contain more phenolic antioxidants than most foods. When it comes to our skin, antioxidants are most definitely beneficial! Cacao has been shown in studies to lower inflammation, reduce the risk of diabetes and even protect the skin from oxidative damage caused by UV radiation.
So, with all these benefits, why all the issues? Pure, 100% cacao is pretty intense! If you've ever eaten dark chocolate with a high percentage cacao content, you'll know it tastes very bitter and nothing like those sweet, sugary mini eggs you've got sitting on the kitchen sideboard!
To create a bar of milk chocolate, milk, sugar, palm oil and flavourings are commonly added, giving the sugary treat its sweet, smooth flavour. It's these additions, rather than the raw chocolate itself, that can prove problematic for our skin.
If you'd prefer to try homemade chocolate with a more healthful list of ingredients, why not try my recipe below. You'll need some silicone chocolate molds like these to pour the chocolate into so that it can set. Or why not make your own secret chocolate easter eggs using empty egg shells.
Homemade Raw Vegan Chocolate
150g coconut oil (I prefer flavourless for this recipe)
75ml maple syrup (you might like more for sweetness)
75g cacao powder
100ml oat cream
Warm the coconut oil in a saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the maple syrup and stir well to combine
Now pour in the cacao powder and stir until the mixture resembles smooth, melted chocolate
Add oat cream and continue to stir
Taste for sweetness and add more maple syrup if needed
You can also add nuts, dried fruit or raisins to this recipe if you enjoy them
Pour into silicone molds and place in the fridge overnight to set. Store in the fridge