It was Paracelsus who said, “The dose makes the poison”, and he could have easily been referring to the consumption of chocolate. Chocolate is a high-energy product, but when eaten in moderation, it has been found to contribute to a generally lean physique. Its benefit is not only limited to a smaller waist; it’s also associated with a reduced risk of heart attack.
Taking data from a broad study of European teens, researchers from a Spanish university have found that teenagers who consumed chocolate frequently tended to have leaner bodies, irrespective of other factors, such as the level of exercise.
The HELENA-CSS STUDY
The scientists, gathered from 26 European universities, took data from the Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence (HELENA) cross sectional study. It is an ongoing long term study on teenagers that focuses on:
- Dietary and activity patterns
- Determinants of food choice
- The identification of risks and indicators of eating disorders
- Means of improving diet by introducing more attractive but healthier options.
- Improving lifestyle habits.
In establishing this causal relationship between frequent chocolate consumption and lean bodies, the researchers delved into data taken from 1,458 teenagers, aged between 12 ½ to 17 ½ years. These teens filled in their dietary patterns (consumption, frequency and suchlike) on a computer, after every other day. Their weights and heights were then measured to calculate the Body Mass Index.
The level of adiposity was measured by Slaughter’s Equation, which takes calf and triceps measurements to determine the level of subcutaneous adipose deposition. Bioelectric impedance and waist circumferences were also measured. Bioelectric impedance evaluates the level of resistance to an electric charge to determine fat composition, as fat is more resistant to electric signals. Waist circumference is often used as a rough estimate of BMI. The level of physical activity was recorded by an accelerometer attached to the teens.
Using all this info, the University of Granada researchers found that teens with higher and more frequent consumption of chocolate had lower levels of total fatness, as could be deduced from the BMI, waist circumference and Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA).
Even Adults Can Benefit
These results would have been surprising were it not for the fact that there already is a past study that recognizes such a link between chocolate consumption and leanness.
Last year, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, released a study that had made an observation of the dietary habits of about 1000 adults from Sand Diego. In it, the researchers showed that those who frequently consumed chocolate tended to be leaner, regardless of their level of exercise or food consumption.
In both cases, this surprising benefit of chocolate, which is energy rich, is attributed to the presence of polyphenols in the cocoa that is a key ingredient of chocolate. The most important of these polyphenols is catechin, which is also found in apples, berries and tea. Catechin is believed to improve insulin sensitivity and cortisol production, which would then lower fat deposition in the body, thus reducing the probability of a person becoming obese. Because catechins are found in cocoa, dark chocolates are richer in the same than milk chocolates.
Besides helping one in maintaining a lower Body Mass Index, chocolate has been found to have a role in lowering the probability of you suffering a stroke, by up to 19%. This was the finding of a Swedish study in which 31,103 men were followed for 10.2 years. In a follow-up to confirm this finding, researchers evaluated the immediate effects of dark chocolate on the brain; it was found to invigorate brain activity.
Chocolate is also believed to have a role in lowering the incidence of ischemic heart disease amongst other cardiac problems.
The HELENA and San Diego studies used self-reported data, and that comes with the inherent risk of people misreporting their intakes, and the researchers would be none the wiser about such disparities. Also, chocolate is to be consumed in moderation, and if you are on a diet, it is unwise to just indulge without a dietitian's advice.