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Can Chocolate Eaters Weigh Less?

Can Chocolate Eaters Weigh Less?
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Chocolate is inherently rich in magnesium, potassium, beta-carotene, vitamin E, niacin, and folic acid

In a letter published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers have announced an association that is sure to please chocolate lovers: a preliminary study has found that people who ate chocolate frequently had a lower BMI (body-mass index) than people who ate chocolate infrequently or not at all.

They collected data about diet, physical activity, and mood from 1,018 healthy adults. They also calculated BMI for each participant using their height and weight. BMI is a measure of weight relative to height and is commonly used to diagnose underweight, overweight, and obesity.

Frequent chocolate eaters are thinner

The researchers made the following observations:

  • BMI was lower in people who ate chocolate more frequently. This means they weighed less relative to their height.
  • The relationship between chocolate eating frequency and BMI was found to be independent of physical activity, saturated fat and calorie consumption, and mood scores.
  • The amount of chocolate eaten was not linked to higher or lower BMI; only the frequency of chocolate eating was related to BMI.
  • Surprisingly, people who ate chocolate frequently consumed more calories and saturated fat than people who ate chocolate infrequently, suggesting that these dietary factors may not determine BMI or weight, as generally thought.

The researchers said their findings agree with previous findings, "suggesting that diet composition, as well as calorie number, may influence BMI." They note that chocolate has demonstrated other positive effects such as improving insulin sensitivity, lowering blood pressure, and reducing cholesterol levels, all of which suggests that chocolate may protect against cardiovascular disease.

What everyone should know about chocolate

These current findings about chocolate and weight are preliminary, since they have been published as a letter and have not yet been reviewed by other researchers. Nonetheless, dieters trying to lose weight may feel encouraged that indulging modestly in dark chocolate may still be reasonable. Here are some other things to remember about chocolate:

  • Chocolate has antioxidants. Chocolate's polyphenols--anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant compounds--are similar to those found in red wine and green tea.
  • Chocolate is nutritious. Added sugar and fat aside, chocolate is inherently rich in magnesium, potassium, beta-carotene, vitamin E, niacin, and folic acid.
  • Chocolate should be dark. Although the quality of the chocolate was not mentioned in the current study, it is the darker chocolate that has previously demonstrated heart-healthy effects.
  • Until more is known, chocolate should be eaten in moderation. Despite these intriguing findings that associates chocolate with healthier BMI, chocolate contains high amounts of calories and fat, which conventional wisdom tells us lead to added pounds. Further research is needed to understand the relationship between chocolate, weight, and optimal health.

(Arch Intern Med 2012;172:517-8)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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