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Experts Weigh in on New Study Claiming Chocolate Can Contribute to Weight Loss

Do you like chocolate? Do you forgo the Snickers bar at the corner shop because you fear it may come at the expense of your waistline? Well, a recent study suggests you may be in the wrong.


According to a report published as a research letter in the Archives of Internal Medicine last week, chocolate may actually contribute to weight loss. Contrary to popular opinion, the study, conducted by a team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego, found that those who ate chocolate on a regular basis had lower body mass indexes than their counterparts who ate the cocoa treat less frequently.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study was led by Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb, an associate professor of medicine at UC-San Diego. Her research team collected self-surveys from over a thousand Californians, who answered questions about their eating habits, health histories, exercising patterns, and so on. Researchers accounted for causal variables— including age, gender, and calorie intake—to isolate the effect of chocolate-eating habits on one’s body mass index. The BMI is a statistic that allows physicians to evaluate health in terms of weight and height, and is often used as a metric of whether one is “underweight,” “overweight,” or “obese.”

After compiling experimental information, controlling for variables and analyzing the data, the researchers came to a startling conclusion: subjects who ate chocolate more frequently than others had—all factors considered—lower body mass indexes than their less-chocolate-eating peers. More specifically, the data showed that those who consumed chocolate five times a week had B.M.I’s one point lower than more occasional eaters—which can translate into a five to seven pound difference, depending on the circumstances.

Even the researchers themselves were stunned by the results.

“Our findings—that more frequent chocolate intake is linked to lower BMI—are intriguing,” the study read.
However, chocolate has long been suspected of having nutritional worth. Recognized as a great source of antioxidants, the metabolic benefits of cocoa are well documented.

 “[The latest findings] are compatible with other evidence showing favorable metabolic effects that are known to track with body mass index,” Dr. Golomb explained, according to the Times.

For the new study, the object was to determine if the systematic health benefits of antioxidants in chocolate could overcome its caloric and fatty downsides. Interestingly, the answer was contingent on how chocolate was eaten: If subjects devoured large amounts in few sittings, data indicated a slight rise in BMIs; Only in instances where chocolate was consumed moderately and frequently did researchers find a corresponding decrease in the statistic.

“It’s not the case that eating the largest amount of chocolate is beneficial; it’s that eating it more often was favorable,” Dr. Golomb cautioned. “If you eat ten pounds of chocolate a day, that’s not going to be a favorable thing.”

Because chocolate is so desirable, the health community has been forced to take a stance on the issue, and even the study’s authors were careful to issue a disclaimer.

“This certainly does not provide support for eating large amounts of chocolate,” Dr. Golomb told Reuters Health.


A renewed discussion on the overall health benefits of chocolate followed after the latest findings were released. Besides for accounting for the recent study in their prescriptions, physicians and dieticians were now forced to reevaluate past research about chocolate and determine how the effects of chocolate eating should be conveyed to patients.

In listing the health benefits commonly associated with chocolate, the Jewish Voice found that antioxidants were often the first things noted by health professionals.

 “Chocolate is actually derived from plants that contain flavonoids, and have health benefits similar to those in green vegetables,” explained Laura Shammah, a recognized dietician who caters to the Jewish community in Brooklyn. “Flavanoids act as antioxidants; Antioxidants protect us from aging caused by free radicals, which can cause damage to the heart.”

Dark chocolate, specifically, was recognized for its antioxidant content.

“Dark chocolate has eight times the number of antioxidants when compared to strawberries,” Mrs. Shammah added. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a registered dietician, confirmed the chocolate’s nutritional value.

 “Dark chocolate is… chock full of antioxidants and good for your heart and for improving blood flow,” he said.

An article published in The Daily Beast on March 28 comprehensively reviewed scientific literature on the topic of chocolate and health, and holistically showed how the antioxidant content in chocolate carries a wide range of health benefits. According to the article, written by Jake Heller, current science suggests that chocolate –or, in some instances, only dark chocolate—can reduce risk of heart attack, diabetes, and stroke, protect against blood inflammation, improve mathematical performance and help prevent cancer, fortify skin, control coughs, improve blood flow, strengthen one’s brain, and even extend life expectancy. In particular, among these health benefits, scientists have focused on how chocolate assists in disease prevention.

“Altogether, the results [of chocolate studies] suggest strong benefits against cardiovascular disease,” Eric Ding of Harvard Medical School told WebMD.


Despite the putative nutritional advantages of chocolate, researchers are still at a loss to explain the findings of the latest study. In general, experienced physicians in the field have been skeptical, and offered other explanations for the observations made by the UC-San Diego team.

“One possibility is that having a little chocolate can be more satisfying than a lot more of some other indulgence,” suggested Dr. Ayoob. “An ounce of chocolate is only 150 calories—lots less than almost any other treat.” In other words, subjects who ate chocolate regularly saved themselves from overindulging in other candies later on.

Some believe the published study spoke more about the eaters than the eaten.

“The fact that the people showing signs of weight loss were eating chocolate five times a week in moderation says more about self-discipline than the weight-losing qualities of chocolate,” Dr. Howard S. Weintraub, clinical director of the NYU Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, told the Jewish Voice. “Such subjects were clearly good eaters, and that may be why the results turned up the way they did.”

Eric Ding of Harvard Medical School said people who eat lots of chocolate are also likely to be affluent, and a direct relationship has been found between wealth and health. He also told Reuters Health that the findings of the study may have stemmed from the fact that “people who [lose] weight reward themselves with chocolate, more than chocolate causing the weight loss.”

Because alternative explanations are available, scientists have generally refrained from ascribing the weight loss results to chocolate consumption. Consequently, they have warned laypeople to not act upon the recent study.


“I caution those trying to lose or maintain their weight to not take [the latest findings] as license to overindulge in excess chocolate,” Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietician at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, told the Jewish Voice. “The study showed correlation between chocolate consumption and BMI, not a direct link.”

“In other words, there is not proof that eating chocolate causes weight loss,” she continued. “More research is needed before we fully understand the connection between the two.”

Experts believe a measure of restraint with chocolate is imperative, and are now reinforcing their pleas to patients.

“I am… concerned that people might misread the study and use the findings as an excuse for unchecked consumption of sweets,” lamented Dr. Ronald Tamler, clinical director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center.


Health professionals, now inquired about the subject, are advising consumers to eat no more than an ounce of chocolate—preferably dark—daily.

“The amount [of dark chocolate] you should eat should be limited to one ounce a day…” explained Mrs. Shammah. “The wisest choice is pure dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nuts. The most valuable chocolate has 65% or higher cocoa content, and it is best to avoid fillings like caramel and nougat because they add fat and sugar.”

“If a person is going to eat chocolate, their best bet is a daily dose of dark chocolate,” confirmed Mrs. Rumsey. “A good portion size to stick to is about one ounce of chocolate per day.”

With Passover fast approaching, a small bit of chocolate can be used to satisfy the sweet tooth, Dr. Tamler explained.

“People with diabetes often despair, because they feel they cannot eat anything—their worry is particular acute with the upcoming holiday,” he said in a written statement. “This study supports what I do in clinical practice: I advise my patients to stay away from candy or ‘sugar-free’ desserts.”

“Instead, I recommend one square of dark chocolate,” he added.

Alenka Ravnik-List, Diabetes program director at the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center, struck a similar note.

“Chocolate is one of life’s small pleasures and has some wonderful benefits,” she said. “However, moderation is key. Do not eat more than 1.5 to 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate, which is anything that has 65 percent or higher cocoa content.”

The nutritional consensus on the recommended daily dose of chocolate was captured by Dr. Ayoob.

“The key is to keep it to an ounce a day or less,” he advised. “After that, it’s just candy.”

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