Friday, February 15, 2013

Science Friday: For the Love of Chocolate, Bite Two

Day after Valentine's.
Heart shaped boxes are in a sorry state.
Happy day after Valentine’s.

I’ve crawled out of my chocolate-induced coma to bring you the second annual installment  of Chocolate Is Good For You News.  This study came out last year, too late for Valentine’s but in time for Easter. (Do I need to start having an April edition of CIGFY News to justify my Cadbury egg consumption?) It doesn’t have anything to do with running or exercise, but it’s chocolate, so I couldn’t resist. (As is usually the story with me and chocolate.)

In this study, they asked over a thousand people about their eating and exercise habits, evaluated their BMIs (Body Mass Index, a ratio of height to weight) and mood, and most importantly asked the age-old question, “How many times a week do you consume chocolate?” (More than you’d like to know, Researcher. More than you’d like to know.) As you might expect, they found that people who ate chocolate more frequently consumed more calories overall, including more saturated fat, and had higher rates of depression. But they also found that people who ate chocolate more frequently had lower BMIs. (Emphasis is theirs. Even they were so surprised by this that they had to add italics.) They found no link between chocolate eating and exercising. 

What’s really remarkable about this is the issue of calories. There’s an idea that a calorie is a calorie, meaning that no matter what you eat, if it adds up to more calories, you’ll gain weight. Of course that’s overly simplified. Studies show some calories are better or worse than others: protein has been shown to keep you lean, monunsaturated fat to reduce your risk of heart disease, trans fat to raise your risk. Most people would put chocolate in the bad calorie column; it’s full of sugar and fat. But this study suggests it’s not so bad; that a chocolate calorie isn’t just a (delicious!) calorie. Even though chocolate lovers ate more calories, they were still thinner. The authors cite other studies that have found chocolate helps regulate insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Maybe these advantages of chocolate offset the sugar and fat. The authors finish by concluding that a randomized clinical trial of chocolate may be needed. Count me in!

Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t ask about the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate gets all the good press and is getting more popular, but considering the ubiquity of milk chocolate products in our supermarkets, I can’t imagine these people were eating only dark chocolate. It would have been interesting if they had included that distinction, especially if it gave some credit to poor old milk chocolate. 

Dream big,
Teal 

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