People couldn’t believe their ears when Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn attributed her slim physique to chocolates. “What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of chocolate,” she once confided during an interview. Well, decades later she is proven to be right.
A recent research suggested that not only do chocolates aid in improving blood pressure, they influence moods, and help live a fulfilling life. The best news for many chocoholics is that chocolate eaters tend to weigh less than those who don’t eat it.
Although a chocolate contains more calories than many other foods, those who eat it regularly have less body fat than those who don’t, a University of California study indicated. It also found that those who ate chocolate few times a week were, on average, slimmer than those who ate it occasionally.
In the study which involved more than 1,000 volunteers, researchers compared chocolate consumption with body mass index – a measure of height and weight – and found that those who consumed chocolate most frequently had a lower BMI on average than those who consumed it the least. The link remained intact even when other factors, like how much exercise individuals did, were taken into account.
Among other diet and lifestyle questions, participants were asked how many times a week did they consume chocolates.
“Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight,” lead author Dr. Beatrice Golomb, from the University of California at San Diego, said.
“Chocolate is my favourite vegetable, and I say that only half-jokingly,” Dr. Golomb quipped. She explained that chocolate is a plant food because, besides having milk and sugar, it consists primarily of chocolate and cocoa butter made from the cocoa bean.
Dr Golomb and her team believes that antioxidant compounds, called catechins, can improve lean muscle mass and reduce weight – as experiments on rodents suggest to be the case.
Mice fed for 15 days with epicatechin (present in dark chocolate) had improved exercise performance and changes to their muscle composition were observed. The team says that clinical trials are now needed on humans to see if this is the case.
And it also appears that the more often you eat chocolates the better it is for your body. The study found no link between quantity consumed.
According to the researchers, there is only one chance in a hundred that their findings could be explained by chance alone.
“This study will change the way the world looks at a chocolate bar,” Dr. James Shore, professor at New York Univerity told Arabian Gazette. “Chocolates have always been seen as a comfort food. Something which people with low self esteem consume to make themselves happy. One student of mine even went to the extent of saying that it is the fat man’s food,” he added.
Researchers suspect the calories in chocolate are not like normal ones.
Dr. Golombo says that cocoa butter which is rich in stearic acid – a saturated fat – has a desirable effect on cholesterol levels, as it raises the ‘good’ high density lipoprotein (HDL) component without raising the ‘bad’ low density lipoprotein (LDL).
Golombo also suggested that different foods may have different effects on the body’s metabolism and that perhaps chocolate may trigger a slight calorie burning boost.
The researchers insisted that regular chocolate consumption might be calorie neutral – or in other words – metabolic benefits of eating modest amounts of chocolate might lead to reduced fat deposition per calorie, thus, offsetting the added calories.
“I have been consuming chocolates all my life,” Sarah Muhammad, a mother of two, told Arabian Gazette. “I’m not obese but I exercise regularly. I contribute my fast metabolism to chocolates.”
Golomb suggested that if someone is reaching out for an Oreo or Devil Dog, they should grab a few chocolate squares instead. “I think it’s fair to call chocolate a real food in the sense that it contains real plant-based nutrients as opposed to packaged cookies or pastries that are filled with artificial flavourings,” she said.
“In case of chocolates, this is good news – both for those who have a regular chocolate habit, and those who may wish to start one.”
While Golomb enjoys partaking in chocolate, she declined to provide advice on how much chocolate people should eat based on her study – which only looked at frequency of consumption, not amount.
Many nutritionists do not advocate eating a candy bar a day for weight loss. The amount eaten in other studies linking chocolate consumption to longer lifespan and lower blood pressure was about 4 grams a day — about one-tenth of a Hershey bar.
The study did not look at what type of chocolates participants ate and how much. As a result, no link was seen between the amount of chocolate eaten and higher or lower BMI.
The researchers warned that the study’s findings may not apply to all products containing chocolate and did not rule out the possibility that some people can put on weight with frequent modest chocolate consumption.
“Giving children chocolates will increase their blood sugar levels and push their metabolism” a paediatrician from Dubai told Arabian Gazette. “However, both adults and children should be mindful of the adverse affects chocolate has on teeth.”
Though this research seems inconclusive, we need to keep in mind that too much of anything is bad! So moderation is the best route to happiness.