by Marion Nestle
Aug 29 2011

Good news at last? chocolate is good for you! Maybe.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the British Medical Journal offers some cheery news.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on chocolate and health concludes that the flavonol antioxsidants in chocolate reduce the risk for cardiometabolic disorders such as heart disease and stroke—by a whopping one-third.

As the investigators explain, previous research suggests that:

chocolate consumption has a positive influence on human health, with antioxidant, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic, and anti-thrombotic effects as well as influence on insulin sensitivity, vascular endothelial function, and activation of nitric oxide.

This seems like a lot for one food–let alone candy—to accomplish but their review of seven studies concludes that people who eat the most chocolate compared to those who eat the least have much lower disease risks.

Wisely, the authors point out that much more research is needed to confirm these benefits, not least because the studies were observational, not clinical trials:

Experimental evidence will be needed before any level of causality can be inferred from the existing findings, and residual confounding could be considered as a potential explanation for the associations observed. Considering the limited data available, any conclusions should be cautious.

As indeed they should.  The investigators point out:

The high energy density of commercially available chocolate (about 2100 kJ (500 kcal)/100 g) means excessive consumption will probably induce weight gain, a risk factor for hypertension, dyslipidaemia, diabetes, and cardiometabolic disorders in general.  [Oops.  Chocolate is fattening]

Although our studies included populations with and without prior cardiovascular disease, the small numbers meant we could not evaluate whether the associations found would differ in terms of primary or secondary prevention.  [Oops, small numbers]

…We found no papers studying the relation between chocolate consumption and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, and we identified only one study showing the relation between diabetes and chocolate intake (a positive association, especially in men).  [Oops, chocolate makes diabetes worse]

…Only two of the studies included evaluated the potential association of chocolate intake with the risk of heart failure. Both studies found no significant effect.  [Oops, chocolate is irrelevant to heart failure]

My conclusion: a little chocolate is delightful.  A lot is not.

As in all matters pertaining to diet, everything in moderation.

  • laffin

    An ounce of dark chocolate a day keeps the blues away.

  • Marion,

    Oh no, I can’t believe you ended with the myth … Everything in moderation.

    Moderation is a failing proposition for diet, health, and lifestyle … just one example:

    I usually hear that myth from folks who are explaining away their ill health and diet.

    Be well,

    Ken Leebow

  • First question: Why is this news?
    Second: Why must they point out that excessive chocolate will induce weight gain? Excessive calories from anything will induce weight gain, and potentially contribute to the above mentioned diseases.

  • Now hold on a minute. Most studies are self reporting; therefore the data is suspect. Most studies a done on healthy young people with undamaged metabolisms. Chocolate is addicting through dopamine and serotonin. The only treatment for addiction is complete assistance. That is the rest of the story. It would be political incorrect to say no chocolate, but I can say that for me, and any obese who is serious about recovery.

  • Pingback: Healthy Chocolate? eh. Not so fast. |()

  • Funny, I just wrote a post small amounts of chocolate consumption being good. The numer recommended by that researcher was 5 grams per day. As it happened, I had some dark chocolate square that were just about 5 grams each and was able to photograph them to give my readers a sense of how little (much?) that small amount of chocolate really is.

  • Anthro

    I used to eat a lot of chocolate–I used to be fat

    I abstained completely from chocolate (as part of reducing my overall calories)–I lost 45 lbs.

    I now have chocolate occasionally (no more than once per month)–I have maintained 40 lbs of my weight loss for five years+

    I am no longer diabetic and have MUCH lower blood pressure and cholesterol (LDL) and higher HDL.

    This is data, not observation. Moderation is fine–as long as you have the will; otherwise, abstention is the best policy.

  • MargaretRC

    Whether or not chocolate is good for you depends not only on how much you eat, but what kind. Milk chocolate is high in sugar, low in all the good stuff. I doubt the benefit outweighs the detrimental amount of sugar. Dark chocolate is better and the more cacao, the less sugar, the better.

  • Don’t most of the antioxidants disappear from chocolate by the time it is packaged for western mouths?

    The original cacao seed is disgustingly bitter due to it high antioxidant levels. But to make it palatable, most of the flavanols are removed by “Dutching” or alkalizing the cocoa.

  • I wish more American chocolate products were more ‘pure’, ie, fewer fillers like waxes and sugar. I love some of the European chocolate I’ve had, simply because the milk chocolate bars had less sugar in them than my typical Hersheys’ w/ almonds fare! They were just as smooth, but richer without as much sweetness (but yet, they weren’t bitter either, like the high-percentage cacao bars) It tasted better, and it was more satisfying, so I ate less of it.

    It was especially nice to have in smaller amounts at a time because my diabetes is caused by premature ovarian failure- and every doctor in three cities is denying me treatment (because, natch, I’m a girl. heh. Post-sexist country, ya’ll.) All the food restrictions in the world isn’t going to make me better. Might as well eat what I like while I’m still alive!

  • Every time a study like this comes out, I think there is some confusion over the meaning of the word “chocolate”. I don’t think they’re saying “a Mars bar a day keeps the doctor away”. Anything that’s full of fat, sugar, and artificial flavourings is going to be bad for you.

    The good stuff is a completely different food. On my favourite chocolate, the ingredients say: Direct-trade cacao beans*, cacao butter, cane sugar* *certified organic

    It’s 75% cacao and delicious. I have about one square of it per week. Weirdly, the nutritional information bases a serving size on 23 grams (a third of the pack). I could never eat that much chocolate in one sitting!

  • I ate some chocolate once and my heart is still beating because of it. The chocolate I ate gave me psoriasis and I have to take an egg tincture to cure that. Once I ate some lemonade and it gave me chronic diarrhea and rotted two of my teeth. The chocolate didn’t cure that so I’m taking garlic by various routes. It is difficult to retain the garlic cloves with the diarrhea all the time caused by the lemons. I also take a lot of aloe. It can’t hurt. The garlic is the best thing it is a healing food even stronger than chocolate.

  • I think the key phrase here is “observational study”.

  • Jon

    Most nutritional studies are, sadly, observational. That’s why it’s so difficult to actually know anything.

    fredt: The only diet recommended by the PC codes is a strict low-fat raw vegan diet, with plenty of 100% natural supplements and plenty of alternative medicine by “local Native Americans” who are blonde and blue-eyed. How exactly this is liberal, nobody is sure, but in academia, that doesn’t matter.

  • I imagine too many people will think that this means that it’s OK to eat five candy bars a day. Everything in moderation!

  • While dark chocolate is high in fat, fortunately the majority of the fat is comprised of stearic acid which doesn’t affect cholesterol levels to the degree that other fatty acids can. Good news when trying to improve cardiac conditions.