Wednesday, June 10, 2009
If you spend any time following the "super" foods that are currently promoted on websites and daytime talk shows, you will certainly have heard about the "miracles" of dark chocolate, one of the super-est of all the super foods. If the Super Foods were the Super Friends, chocolate would probably be Batman (second only to Super Man, a role currently filled by Acai Berry).
Unlike most other super foods like Acai Berry whose proponents just make things up, there is some legitimate research suggesting that dark chocolate has a modest impact on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors, although the research is far from conclusive at this point. For example, one recent article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that an acute dose of dark chocolate results in a modest decrease in systolic blood pressure in overweight, normotensive adults. However, another paper published two months earlier in the same journal reports that daily consumption of dark chocolate over a 6-week period in elderly adults had no impact on blood pressure or other markers of cardiovascular disease risk. So right now it's not really clear how (or if) chocolate influences health.
The biggest problem with this area of research is that almost all studies reporting a benefit of chocolate are associated with the chocolate industry. In fact, a 2008 review in the British Journal of Nutrition reports that of 28 papers examining the effects of chocolate intake on health risk, 20 were somehow affiliated with the chocolate industry, while others were supported by the American Cocoa Research Institute, a chocolate lobby group. The fact that a study is associated with industry doesn't automatically mean that it is poorly done, but it does make it more likely that they will find a favourable result. For example, a systematic review in the British Medical Journal found that studies which were funded by the pharmaceutical industry were 405% more likely to report a favourable finding than studies funded by non-industry sources.
The British Journal of Nutrition review (which itself was written by an author from the Nestle´ Research Center) goes on to suggest that:
"Most previous short-term studies have given a single ‘dose’ of chocolate, which is probably more
than one person would normally consume"
than one person would normally consume"
So let's recap so far:
1. Chocolate may have modest effects on markers of health risk
2. Most of these studies were funded by the chocolate industry
3. Most of these studies have used a dose larger than people would normally consume
All of this brings me to the Chocolate Weight Loss Diet, a diet which allows you to lose weight while enjoying as much chocolate as you like - or at least that's what the creators of the diet claim on their website. How does it work? According to the Chocolate Weight Loss Diet website, "... of all the properties that exist in raw cacao, one is a powerful appetite suppressant". Unfortunately that claim is completely unsupported by the research. In fact, I cannot find a single study supporting the use of cacao as an appetite suppressant.
The website goes on to claim that cacao "...provides the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals the body needs, thus decreasing the urges for added "fuel"". First of all, vitamins and minerals are not "fuel". Nor does the body crave "fuel" based on vitamin and mineral intake. And finally, if you are truly concerned that you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals, a diet high in fresh, unrefined foods is almost certainly going to be more effective than eating chocolate.
Of course this lack of evidence hasn't stopped legitimate news organizations from promoting chocolate as a potential weight loss tool. Case in point is the following Canadian news piece which suggests that cacao may be associated with weight loss, without providing any evidence whatsoever to back up the claim (our email subscribers will have to visit our site by clicking on the title of the post to see the clip). Of note, the chocolate product which is highlighted in this clip (Xocai) combines cacao with Acai Berry, the hottest and most misleading weight loss gimmick on the market today (and one which has been thoroughly debunked here on Obesity Panacea).
So, what's the take home message? Chocolate may be associated with some health benefits, but the research isn't clear at this point. What is clear is that there is no evidence that chocolate promotes weight loss, and the potential benefits resulting from chocolate intake pale in comparison to those seen following even a single bout of exercise. So if you're looking for a short-term reduction in health risk, eschew the chocolate for a 30 minute walk.
A big hat tip to Dr Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters for the suggestion of today's topic, as well as the link to the Youtube video. To receive evaluations of other weight loss
1. Acai Berry Scam Exposed: We Called It!
2. Slender Shaper: Another Weight Loss Gimmick?
3. HCG for Fat Loss
Cooper, K., Donovan, J., Waterhouse, A., & Williamson, G. (2007). Cocoa and health: a decade of research British Journal of Nutrition, 99 (01) DOI: 10.1017/S0007114507795296
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