With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, you may be thinking about buying chocolate for your loved ones. The idea is probably even more tempting because of all the recent news about how chocolate is good for your memory, your heart, and your waistline. But don’t believe everything you hear. Take chocolate and weight.
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“Eat chocolate, lose weight,” claims weight-loss author Cynthia Sass. “A new study by the University of California, San Diego, found that frequent chocolate eaters weigh less, despite consuming more calories,” she wrote in Fox News Magazine.
Many people believe that, says chocolate researcher James Greenberg, an associate professor of health and nutrition sciences at Brooklyn College in New York.
“It’s based on less-than-rigorous cross-sectional studies supposedly showing that those who eat more chocolate weigh less and those who eat less chocolate weigh more.”
But cross-sectional studies—which take a snapshot in time—can’t determine what leads to what, says Greenberg. To get a better handle on that, you need to follow people over time.
To do that, Greenberg analyzed data on chocolate consumption from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. More than 12,000 residents of North Carolina, Minnesota, Maryland, and Mississippi aged 45 to 64 were weighed in the late 1980s and were asked, among other things, how often they ate a serving of chocolate. Six years later, they were weighed and asked about chocolate again.
“The more frequently someone ate chocolate, the more weight they gained,” says Greenberg. “And those who ate the most chocolate gained the most weight.”
It didn’t take much, either. People who consumed just an ounce of chocolate at least once a week gained an average of 2.4 pounds over the six years.
That’s consistent with the results from a small randomized trial of 91 German men and women. Those given about an ounce of chocolate to eat every night after dinner gained almost two pounds over a three-month period, while those given about a quarter of an ounce gained no weight.
So why do cross-sectional studies seem to show that people who eat more chocolate weigh less?
“Some heavier participants in the studies are eating less chocolate because they’re trying to lose weight after having a heart attack or stroke, or after being diagnosed with a disease like diabetes,” Greenberg explains. “That makes it look like people who eat more chocolate weigh less. But if researchers exclude people who have obesity-related illness, those who eat more chocolate don’t weigh less.”
Sources: PLoS 8: e70271, 2013; Am. J. Hyperten. 23: 694, 2010.
If you want to give your Valentine a sweet something this year, try these healthy and delicious Chocolate, Fruit, and Nut Clusters from our Healthy Cook, Chef Kate Sherwood:
Chocolate, Fruit, & Nut Clusters
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooling time: 30 minutes
9 oz. dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa), chopped
2 cups roasted pistachios, unsalted
1 cup dried cherries, unsweetened
1 cup diced dried apricots
1 cup golden raisins
• In a small pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Remove from the heat. Put the chocolate in a large, heat-resistant bowl. Put the bowl on top of the pot, and stir until the chocolate has melted.
• Mix the pistachios, cherries, apricots, and raisins into the chocolate, then spread into a 10″ x 3″ rectangle on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.
• Allow to set at room temperature (about 30 minutes), then cut into 1″ squares.
Yields 30 pieces.
Total fat: 8 g
Saturated fat: 3 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 16 g
Fiber: 3 g
Protein: 3 g
Added sugar: ½ tsp.
Other relevant links:
• Can chocolate protect against cognitive decline? See: Chocolate and Brain Health
• The best way to get cocoa flavanols into your diet. See: How to Diet: Can Chocolate Protect your Heart and Brain?
• Can eating milk chocolate improve your circulation? See: What to Eat: Are Cocoa and Chocolate a Reliable Source of Flavanols?