By Alisha Mehta
Need another reason to enjoy chocolate? The flavonoids in chocolate may have a weight lowering effect, reported a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This potentially controversial study found that greater frequency of chocolate consumption was associated with lower body mass index (BMI).
At the University of California San Diego General Clinical Research Center, researchers asked participants, “How many times a week do you consume chocolate?” Participants also filled out a food frequency questionnaire, provided information on physical activity, and completed a mood evaluation.
After controlling for age, sex, physical activity, calories, saturated fats, and mood, researchers found an association between frequency of chocolate consumption and lower BMI. The lower BMI was not explained by overall caloric intake or activity even though frequent chocolate consumption was associated with greater caloric intake.
The study did not ask what type of chocolate was eaten, even though milk chocolate has less available flavonoids than dark chocolate. In addition, socioeconomic status was not controlled for, a factor which likely also affects BMI.
Though eating chocolate to lose weight sounds like a great idea, these findings are very preliminary. The key researcher, Dr. Golomb says she “would not use it to generate recommendations.”
What’s more, several studies have looked at chocolate and heart disease, none of which found similar results. Dr. Eric Ding from the Harvard School of Public Health performed a meta-analysis of 24 randomized trials and reported that “there was absolutely no effect of cocoa flavonoids on BMI change.” He believes “this basically refutes their whole flavonoid weight hypothesis.”
Don’t worry. There is some good news for chocolate lovers. Though we may not be able to rely on chocolate for weight loss, there is substantial evidence that the cocoa flavonol epicatechin, an antioxidant, has cardioprotective effects.
In March, the American Chemical Society held a three hour symposium on cocoa science and technology where the health benefits of chocolate were discussed. The previously mentioned meta-analysis published in The Journal of Nutrition looked at the different effects of flavonoid rich cocoa on risk factors for heart disease. The most notable outcome of chocolate is its blood pressure lowering effect. In addition, chocolate also increases HDL, the “good cholesterol,” known to be protective of heart disease; improves insulin resistance; and improves blood flow.
Other research has also found preliminary evidence for additional health benefits. For people with diabetes, chocolate can help reduce high blood sugar levels following a meal. It can also increase the contractile abilities of blood vessels in patients with congestive heart failure.
Research has shown that there may be the potential for chocolate in the treatment of migraines and inhibition of the development of colon cancer as well; however, this has not been studied in human subjects yet.
Clearly, the scientific knowledge surrounding chocolate is growing. To support the growing research and literature, the International Society of Chocolate and Cocoa in Medicine has been founded and will have its first international meeting this year in December. I’m sure many people would love to see further research on the applications of chocolate in health.
Though chocolate consumption has been found to have several benefits, a serving size has not been established for heart health. As always in the nutrition world, the key words are moderation and balance—a small square as an after-meal treat should do the trick!
Alisha is in her second year at the Friedman School as a dual Nutrition Communications/DPD student and is excited to soon become a Double Jumbo. She is a true California girl and enjoys traveling, experimenting in the kitchen, and spending time with family.