Eating Chocolate and Losing Weight?
A relatively innocuous piece of research published recently received more than its fair share of attention. Using the words ‘chocolate’ and ‘slimmer’ in the headline, it was destined to become a front page attention-grabber. The study, which examined the dietary habits of nearly 1,000 people, found that those who ate chocolate the most often had a lower body mass index compared with those who ate chocolate less frequently.
Wow! It must be time to launch a new revolutionary ground-breaking weight loss therapy, called ‘the chocolate diet’. Unfortunately, as it so often happens, closer scrutiny of the research data reveals a slightly different story. Less apparent from the enthusiastic headlines was the fact that this was only a cross-sectional observational study, which is only powerful enough to show links or associations and, in principle, simply not designed to prove cause and effect. Without going in too much detail here, there could easily be a number of other explanations for this finding, called confounders (for instance, people who are overweight may shun chocolate while being on a weight loss diet, thus eating less chocolate than slim people who are not on a diet).
However, just as we should not read too much into this study, so too, we should avoid the other extreme of completely dismissing it either. As the study authors mentioned, these findings fit with a bigger picture, which shows that cocoa compounds could have favourable effects on other aspects of our cardio-metabolic health such as improving insulin sensitivity, lowering blood pressure and having a positive effect on cholesterol levels. Further evidence can be found in animal studies, which have also shown that epicatechin, a compound found in chocolate, can positively influence lean muscle mass and muscle performance, along with weight reduction.
Although it would be great, if regularly eating chocolate confectionary would offer an elixir for health, the reality is likely to look different. The general opinion is that the cocoa bit of chocolate, as opposed to the fat, sugar and additives that define most chocolate confectionary, is the key to unlocking the chocolate’s true health benefits, most probably due to its potent phytonutrients content, especially cocoa flavanols. In order to reap these benefits, not only you have to eat dark chocolate but, furthermore, be on the lookout for a new generation of designer chocolate, carefully processed to preserve high levels of cocoa flavanols, which are typically massively diminished by standard way of chocolate processing.