New research suggests that a small amount of chocolate daily may help to lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
The study published in the British Journal of Nutrition was based on the fact that chocolate is often considered a treat and can contain a hefty dose of fat and sugar, so overconsumption is linked to health problems like dental cavities and decay and also obesity. More recent studies have suggested that a “dark chocolate habit” can offer some health benefits.
Dark chocolate has cocoa, and depending on the percentage of cacao (the beanlike seeds from which cocoa, cocoa butter, and chocolate are made), can have higher levels of cocoa and its associated antioxidants. Some of those antioxidants (molecules that can neutralize free radicals circulating in our body) are flavonoids, which are associated with helping to prevent some forms of cell damage.
Researchers looked at 1,153 subjects who participated in the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk in Luxemberg (ORISCAV-LUX) study and their consumption of chocolate. Data was collected from questionnaires that the subjects filled out. The goal of the study was to investigate whether chocolate consumption is associated with insulin resistance – a condition in which the body’s cells don’t respond well to circulating insulin. Insulin resistance is linked to prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. They also wanted to see how chocolate consumption affected liver enzyme levels, a measure of liver function and health.
The researchers found that 81.8% of the subjects consumed chocolate, with an average intake of about 24.8 grams daily. Compared with individuals who did not eat chocolate daily, those who did were found to have lower levels of insulin resistance and a better liver enzyme profile. Among the food items that were tracked in the questionnaire, intake of tea and coffee (both rich in polyphenols) was noted, since both beverages can spur chocolate’s cardio-metabolic risk benefits.
The researchers also observed that participants who did eat chocolate regularly tended to be younger, more physically active and more highly educated than those who did not eatchocolate.
Does this mean a chocolate habit does a body good?
The lead researcher, Professor Stranges and his colleagues concluded that dark chocolate consumption may help to reduce the risk of developing cardio-metabolic disorders by protecting against insulin resistance and supporting or possibly improving liver enzymes. It is important to track portion size and calories, since weight balance is a separate issue. It’s also recommended that you choose less processed dark chocolate with lower amounts of added sugar and a higher percentage of cacao. If you do indulge in a daily dose of dark chocolate, make sure to account for it in your daily calorie tally.