Though chocolate has been found in numerous studies to be beneficial for health, primarily through a reduction in cardiac events like heart attack and stroke, warnings about consuming too much of this energy-dense food usually accompany the findings. A typical 3.5 oz (100g) bar has more than 500 calories, so people who frequently eat chocolate are advised to compensate for those calories elsewhere in their diet.
However, a 2012 review published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that eating chocolate regularly was actually linked to a lower body mass index (BMI) – even when subjects were consuming more calories overall.
Led by University of California medical professor Beatrice Golomb, the research followed 975 men and women between the ages of 20 and 85 (mean age 57). Subjects were asked if they ate chocolate, and if so, how often. Consistently, more frequent consumption predicted lower BMI, a counter-intuitive result considering chocolate’s high fat and sugar content.
Specifically, each additional time per week a person ate chocolate was associated with a further 0.2 reduction in their BMI. As Golomb described it to me, that means eating chocolate five times a week (compared to eating none) was associated with 1 lower BMI point, or about 5 pounds of weight for a person 5 feet tall, or 7 pounds of weight on someone 5’10” tall.
To explain the findings, the researchers suggest that all calories are not created equal – and point to other studies on metabolism in rodents. An antioxidant component of chocolate called epicatechin has been shown to increase cellular mitochondrial activity in rats, improving muscular performance and reducing weight without a reduction in caloric intake. Though this study in humans simply showed a correlation between frequency of eating chocolate and lower BMI, and not that the chocolate caused the lower body weight, Golomb’s team proposes future research similar to the rat studies may prove the relationship is indeed causal.
Other investigations have also found that eating chocolate more often, is healthy. A 2011 British Medical Journal review of seven studies involving about 114,000 subjects, reported that people who ate chocolate more than twice a week had a 37 per cent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, a 29 per cent lower risk of stroke, and a 31 per cent lower risk of diabetes. These findings held, regardless of the type of chocolate consumed. Other research suggests eating as little as 6 grams of chocolate a day, can reduce your chance of heart attack and stroke by more than a third.
The take-away message? This is one craving you may not have to feel too guilty about indulging.
Adriana Buitrago-Lopez et al. “Chocolate Consumption and Cardiometabolic Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. BMJ 2011;343:d4488.
Beatrice A. Golomb, Sabrina Koperski, and Halbert L. White. "Association Between More Frequent Chocolate Consumption and Lower Body Mass Index." Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(6):519-521. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2100.
Brian Buijsse et al. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Eur Heart Journal 2010;31:1616-23.
Claims About Cocoa. US National Institutes of Health Information Sheet. Accessed January 27,2011.