Yesterday’s issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, a Journal of the American Medical Association publication, included the results of a study in which more frequent chocolate-eating was linked to lower body mass index (BMI). Does it sound too good to be true? Let’s discuss.
Previous research has demonstrated that dark chocolate can have a variety of health benefits when eaten in small quantities, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and increased insulin sensitivity. These effects are owed mainly to the antioxidants, namely flavonoids, found in chocolates with a high cocoa content. However, because chocolate is sugar- and calorie-rich, consuming too much can negate any positive health effects and instead contribute to a larger waistline.
The latest study to be added to the mix was led by Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb at the University of California at San Diego. Dr. Golomb and her research team recruited 1,018 healthy participants to estimate via a self-report questionnaire how much chocolate they typically consume during a week. BMI measurements of these participants were also taken. The authors found that participants who ate chocolate more frequently tended to have lower BMIs than those who ate chocolate less frequently.
Now, we know what you’re thinking. But before you head to the grocery store to stock up on chocolate, there are a few things we need to consider. First, and most importantly, due to the nature of the study the results cannot be used to prove a cause and effect relationship between chocolate consumption and BMI; all that we can say is that there appears to be an association between these two variables. Even though the results of this study could possibly indicate that eating chocolate more often will decrease your BMI, much more research would be necessary before such a relationship could be demonstrated.
Second, the difference in BMI between those who ate chocolate more frequently and those who ate it less frequently was very modest. Each additional instance of chocolate consumption per week was associated with a 0.2 point reduction in BMI, or one fifth of a point. Finally, it is important to keep in mind that chocolate’s health benefits are tied to its antioxidant content. Dark chocolate offers the largest amount of flavonoids, while white chocolate offers none. So, choose your chocolate wisely.
Perhaps the best take-home message is this: while you shouldn’t overindulge in chocolate and other sweets, you don’t have to feel badly about having that little square of dark chocolate after lunch or dinner – it may be good for your health! Who doesn’t like to hear that?