Not only is dark chocolate delicious (my favorite treat), but it has proven health benefits.
A study from the Archives of Internal Medicine (5) suggests dark chocolate may help with weight loss as well.
Just over a thousand men and women between 20 and 85 years of age were screened to study the effects of statin medications (cholesterol drugs). The researchers, to our benefit, also asked about participant’s chocolate consumption.
How many times a week do you consume chocolate?
I would answer at least seven myself.
Back to the study.
They measured participant height and weight. By questionnaire, researchers also determined fruit and vegetable consumption, total calories consumed as well as saturated fat. And of course, yummy chocolate. Activity level and mood were also determined to avoid confounding (messing up) the data.
So, on average participants ate chocolate only twice per week (Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. These people need to live a little.)
They exercised 3 times per week.
Those who ate chocolate more frequently had lower body mass indexes (BMI). The researchers adjusted for age, sex, depression, activity level, fruit and veg consumption, calories, but the association stood strong.
Chocolate consumption predicted a lower BMI.
To be clear, in case you are already heading to Amazon to purchase 4 bags of Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Squares, the amount of chocolate did NOT predict a lower BMI. Only the frequency of chocolate consumption.
So, there is no dose-response curve to chocolate. Higher doses of chocolate does not necessarily lead to more weight loss. Maybe, at a certain point, increased chocolate consumption could actually lead to weight gain. We don’t know. What we do know is that there is a lot of sugar and saturated fat in dark chocolate.
Think about it this way. Your doctor gives you the medication amlodipine (Norvasc) for your high blood pressure and asks you to take one tab daily. You decide if one pill is good, five is better. You and I know that this is not true, and in fact dangerous. You need to take the medication once a day.
This study suggests that chocolate may have weight loss effects if taken frequently.
How frequent? How much? What concentration of cocoa?
Sorry, but as far as I can tell, these questions are not answered.
Remember, no study is perfect, including this one, which has flaws and bias (6).
So, I would suggest that if you wish to use this information, consider eating small European size DARK chocolates (greater than 70% cocoa). The darker, probably the better. For instance, a small Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Square. Maybe one or two squares 3-4 times per week. Don’t go too crazy or you may find your waistline widening still.
How could dark chocolate lead to weight loss anyway?
Apparently, chocolate houses a polyphenol called epicatechin. Polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidant in our diet and have been found to be good for our metabolism. Epicatechin is found in fruits like apples and pears, but also abundant in most berries. Dark chocolate beats the berries with twice as much epicatechin.
In rodents (not humans), epicatechin has been found to improve muscle performance, add muscle mass and reduce weight.
Think Mighty Mouse.
Now, what is needed is a randomized controlled trial to study chocolate and its effects on human metabolism and obesity.
Large trials with lots of chocolate. For the sake of science – I’m in.
- Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons.
- Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study.
- Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Cochrane Database Systematic Review.
- Daily consumption of a dark chocolate containing flavanols and added sterol esters affects cardiovascular risk factors in a normotensive population with elevated cholesterol.
- Association between more frequent chocolate consumption and lower body mass index.
- Too Sweet to Be Real?
Image Credit: Stack of Chocolate Squares by Carlos Restrepo from 500px.com