Research shows the more chocolate you eat, the lower your body fat level
University of Granada researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences have scientifically disproven the old belief that eating chocolate is fattening. In an article published November, 2013 in the journal Nutrition, the authors have shown that higher consumption of chocolate is associated with lower levels of total fat (fat deposited all over the body) and central fat (abdominal), independently of whether or not the individual participates in regular physical activity and of diet, among other factors.
The researchers determined whether greater chocolate consumption associated with higher body mass index and other indicators of total and central body fat in adolescents participating in the HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) study. This project, financed by the European Union, studies eating habits and lifestyle in young people in 9 European countries, including Spain.
Independent of diet and physical activity
The study involved 1458 adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years and results showed that a higher level of chocolate consumption associated with lower levels of total and central fat when these were estimated through body mass index, body fat percentage—measured by both skinfolds and bioelectrical impedance analysis—and waist circumference. These results were independent of the participant's sex, age, sexual maturation, total energy intake, intake of saturated fats, fruit and vegetables, consumption of tea and coffee, and physical activity.
As the principle author Magdalena Cuenca-García explains, although chocolate is considered a high energy content food—it is rich in sugars and saturated fats—“recent studies in adults suggest chocolate consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders”.
In fact, chocolate is rich in flavonoids—especially catechins—which have many healthy properties: “they have important antioxidant, antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects and can help prevent ischemic heart disease”.
Recently, another cross-sectional study in adults conducted by University of California researchers found that more frequent chocolate consumption also associated with a lower body mass index. What's more, these results were confirmed in a longitudinal study in women who followed a catechin-rich diet.
The effect could be partly due to the influence of catechins on cortisol production and on insulin sensitivity, both of which are related with overweight and obesity.
Calorie impact is not the only thing that matters
The University of Granada researchers have sought to go further and analyse the effect of chocolate consumption at a critical age like adolescence by also controlling other factors that could influence the accumulation of fat. The research, which is both novel and, perhaps, the largest and best-controlled study to date, is the first to focus on the adolescent population. It includes a large number of body measures, objective measurement of physical activity, detailed dietary recall with 2 non-consecutive 24-hour registers using image-based software, and controls for the possible effect of a group of key variables.
In Nutrition, the authors stress that the biological impact of foods should not be evaluated solely in terms of calories. “The most recent epidemiologic research focuses on studying the relation between specific foods—both for their calorie content and for their components—and the risk factors for developing chronic illnesses, including overweight and obesity”.
Despite their results, the authors insist that chocolate consumption should always be moderate. “In moderate quantities, chocolate can be good for you, as our study has shown. But, undoubtedly, excessive consumption is prejudicial. As they say: you can have too much of a good thing”.
The University of Granada researchers stress that their findings “are also important from a clinical perspective since they contribute to our understanding of the factors underlying the control and maintenance of optimal weight”.
More frequently eating chocolate appears related to lower BMI
More frequently eating chocolate was linked to lower body mass index (BMI), according to a research letter in the March 26, 2012 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Consumption of certain types of chocolate has been linked to some favorable metabolic associations with blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and cholesterol level. However, because chocolate can be a calorie-laden sweet there are concerns about eating it.
Beatrice A. Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues with the University of California, San Diego, studied 1,018 men and woman without known cardiovascular disease, diabetes or extremes of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels who were screened for participation in a clinical study examining noncardiac effects of statins. To measure chocolate consumption, 1,017 of the participants answered a question about how many times per week they ate chocolate. BMI was calculated for 972 of them. Of the participants, 975 completed a food frequency questionnaire.
“Adults who consumed chocolate more frequently had a lower BMI than those who consumed chocolate less often,” the authors note.
Participants had a mean (average) age of 57 years, 68 percent were men and the mean BMI was 28. They ate chocolate a mean (average) of two times a week and exercised 3.6 times a week.
“In conclusion, our findings – that more frequent chocolate intake is linked to lower BMI – are intriguing,” the authors conclude. “A randomized trial of chocolate for metabolic benefits in humans may be merited.”