Valentine's Day Lovers Delight: Chocolate Is Rich in Dietary Copper!

January 30, 2001


NEW YORK-It's soothing, sinful, and sublime. It's enticing and luscious on the tongue. Its hedonistic pleasures were once reserved for Aztec kings, newlyweds and Spanish royalty.

But today, millions of people all around the world are impassioned by the sweet lure of chocolate. Few, however, are aware that chocolate is a rich source of dietary copper.

"The bean from the cacao tree is naturally abundant in copper," said Carl Keen, Professor of Nutrition and Internal Medicine at the University of California at Davis."Fortunately, much of the copper is retained when the bean is processed into cocoa or chocolate."

For various reasons, the copper content of dark chocolate is significantly greater than milk chocolate. A 3-ounce bar of dark chocolate can contain 0.75 milligrams of copper. This is more than 100% of the US Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for children and over 80% of the RDA for teens and adults. On the other hand, a 3-ounce bar of milk chocolate can contain 0.18 milligrams of copper. This is equivalent to 20% of the RDA for teens and adults.

In a study published in the academic journal Nutrition Research, dark chocolate candy and other chocolate products were found to be the highest contributors of daily copper intake in the American diet. "Americans who eat chocolate get an average of about 10% of their copper from chocolate foods," said Nancy Betts, Ph.D., R.D., Professor of Nutritional Science and Dietetics at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, who was a co-author of the study. Another study published in Journal of Nutrition revealed that some people get over 50% of their daily copper from chocolate foods.

Copper is an essential mineral. Copper is essential for the proper functioning of the body in many ways. It facilitates cardiovascular and neurological health, builds connective tissue and promotes bone development. It maintains sufficient levels of red blood cells and its antioxidant properties protect cells against free radical damage. Copper is also needed for enzymes involved in energy metabolism.

Since copper is not manufactured in the body, it must be taken into the body through the diet. Too little copper in the diet can lead to disease.

"Copper deficiency in children may result in retarded growth and development," said Prof. Keen. "In adults, a deficiency may result in numerous metabolic problems, including anemia, heart and circulation dysfunction, bone abnormalities, and complications to the nervous system, immune system, lungs, thyroid, pancreas and kidneys."

Nutritional experts believe that mild copper deficiency is common in humans, even in developed nations. However, according to the study in Nutrition Research, consumption of chocolate is positively correlated with total dietary intake of copper.

So, there seems to be little reason to feel guilty about consuming that box of chocolates on Valentine's Day! But if the extra fat and calories are a major concern, you can get your recommended daily allowance of copper from whole grains, nuts, raisins, shellfish, liver and legumes.