Asked about her slim physique, Katherine Hepburn famously joked, “What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.”
Hepburn may have been partly right … judging by an analysis showing that habitual chocolate eaters are thinner than their peers.
As lead author Beatrice Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., said, her team found that “Eating chocolate frequently is linked to lower weight.”
Frankly, we hesitated to report this study lest people start using chocolate as a diet pill.
But the outcomes make some biochemical sense. Dr. Golomb said that chocolate – despite its sugar and fat – appears to have “favorable metabolic effects. Fewer calories end up as fat deposited in the body” (Rowe P 2012).
Her UC San Diego team examined diet surveys, weight-height data, and other information provided by 972 local men and women who'd volunteered for a clinical study on the non-cardiac effects of statin drugs.
The participants were aged between 20 and 85, and free of heart disease and diabetes, with normal blood cholesterol profiles.
Unfortunately, the original questionnaire did not ask which types of chocolate – light (milk) or dark – the volunteers consumed.
UC San Diego study finds chocolate fans are thinner
The findings reported by Dr. Golomb's team were far more favorable than they'd expected.
They concluded that adults who ate chocolate frequently were thinner – i.e. they had a lower body mass index (BMI) – than those who ate chocolate less often.
The size of the effect was modest but significant, and larger than could be explained by chance.
This advantage was seen despite the fact that those who ate chocolate more often consumed more calories overall, and did not exercise more.
In fact, no differences in the participants' behaviors could explain the finding as a difference in calories consumed versus calories expended.
“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” (Golomb BA et al. 2012).
Echoing Ms. Hepburn, she added, “In the case of chocolate, this is good news – both for those who have a regular chocolate habit, and those who may wish to start one” (UCSD 2012).
This association survived adjustments to account for the effects of age, gender, calorie intake, and saturated fat intake.
Click below to view an interview with Dr. Golomb, or view it at YouTube.
Benefits attributed to cocoa's uncommon polyphenols
As with most diet-health studies, this one relied on people's self-reported diets, and cannot prove a cause-effect relationship.
However, the authors proposed a plausible hypothesize … that the metabolic effects of polyphenol compounds in cocoa might render a modest chocolate habit calorie-neutral.
The UC San Diego team believes that the known metabolic benefits of cocoa polyphenols might curb fat deposition per chocolate calorie, and roughly offset those added calories.
They credited the flavanol-type polyphenols that abound in cocoa and tea … specifically, catechins (kat-eh-kins), which influence metabolism in lab rodents.
(Cocoa is the richest known source of flavanols, catechins, and total polyphenols.)
As they wrote, “Cocoa-derived epicatechin, specifically, is reported to increase mitochondrial biogenesis and capillarity, muscular performance, and lean muscle mass and to reduce weight without changing calories or exercise … parallel processes in humans, if present, could underlie [explain] our findings” (Golomb BA et al. 2012).
(Mitochondria are the body's minuscule calorie-burning energy factories, and “mitochondrial biogenesis” is the process by which new mitochondria are formed in cells.)
The UC San Diego scientists did not ask which kind of chocolate participants consumed, but it only makes sense to minimize sugar and calories and maximize polyphenol intake.
Accordingly, as Dr. Golomb says in her video statement, it makes sense to choose dark chocolate … which means bars containing 65 percent cocoa solids or more.
Cocoa polyphenols are usually referred to as antioxidants because they behave that way in the test tube … but far too few of the polyphenols in plant foods are absorbed to make significant, direct antioxidant impacts in the body.
Instead, very small amounts of absorbed dietary polyphenols are proven to exert “nutrigenomic” effects.
The nutrigenomic effects of polyphenols significantly boost the body's own antioxidant capacity while – among other healthful impacts – moderating inflammation.
Golomb BA, Koperski S, White HL. Association between more frequent chocolate consumption and lower body mass index. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Mar 26;172(6):519-21.
Rowe P. Regular chocolate eaters are thinner. March 26, 2012. Accessed at http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/mar/27/tp-dr-beatrice-golomb/
University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Regular chocolate eaters are thinner. March 26, 2012. Accessed at http://health.universityofcalifornia.edu/2012/03/26/regular-chocolate-eaters-are-thinner/