A recent study published at the University of CA at San Diego noted that people who ate chocolate 5 times a week had a BMI(body mass index) that was one point lower than individuals who did not regularly consume chocolate. A one point change in BMI is actually significant: for someone who stands 5’7″, that represents a 5 pound weight difference.
This was an observational study that looked at 1018 healthy individuals aged 20-85 and included both men and women. This cohort ate a nutritious, balanced diet and exercised regularly. The study gathered its data via a questionnaire which asked the participants “How many times/week do you eat chocolate?”(no distinction was made as to the particular type of chocolate consumed). In general it was noted that the individuals who ate chocolate actually consumed more calories than the group who did not.
So what is going on here??? Several theories have emerged to explain why this occurred. First, chocolate contains compounds called polyphenols. The ones that are in chocolate in particular can inhibit pancreatic lipase, which is an enzyme that is responsible for digesting fat. This action has been observed in test tubes and in mice only so far and showed that after consumption, chocolate exits the body before its calories can be absorbed. This explains one possible mechanism of action. Another explanation is that chocolate contains compounds that actually increase the energy that cells produce, resulting in an increase in metabolic rate.
An additional health benefit of eating chocolate is that is contains anti-oxidants called flavenoids. These flavenoids are anti-inflammatory, lower blood pressure, improve vascular functioning, affect metabolism and increase insulin sensitivity.
Of course, chocolate consumption should not be unlimited, as there is clearly a point where some of these health benefits will be negated by consuming too many calories and in some cases, too much sugar. Recommendations for optimal health are to eat one ounce of dark chocolate a day or add cocoa powder to a beverage.
Of note, this study was NOT funded by the chocolate industry, but rather by the NIH(National Institute of Health), the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the UCSD Clinical Research Center. And although this particular study didn’t differentiate between the types of chocolate consumed, dark chocolate contains higher levels of anti-oxidants and it is always healthier to choose organically produced chocolate. I have to admit I still love a high quality milk chocolate(Lindt is my personal favorite) but I have grown to appreciate rich, full-bodied and dense dark chocolates.
So enjoy some chocolate, in moderation of course, and feel just a little less guilty when you do. And please share some of YOUR personal favorite brands, as well as any wonderful chocolate recipes.