Could you improve your health with chocolate? Despite widespread skepticism that chocolate could have health benefits, researchers keep uncovering evidence that it may.
Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes or High Liver Enzymes:
An observational study recently demonstrated that people who eat a small portion of chocolate daily are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes or elevated liver enzymes. The Observation of Cardiovascular Risk in Luxembourg study included results from more than 1,000 adults. The researchers found that the more chocolate people reported eating (up to 100 grams a day, about the amount in a large candy bar), the less likely they were to have insulin resistance.
This study relied on a one-time questionnaire and blood test. This cross-sectional study design makes it harder to sort out what might be due to other unrelated factors such as age, activity level, education and other dietary patterns, including tea, coffee, vegetables and fruits or alcohol. Because of this potential confounding, it is difficult to argue that this study shows conclusively that you can improve your health with chocolate. But it might be fun to try.
The scientists call for randomized controlled trials to explore how chocolate affects insulin resistance and metabolic health.
Other Studies on Whether You Can Improve Your Health with Chocolate:
A review of previous studies (cohort and cross-sectional studies like this one, rather than experiments called randomized controlled trials) found that higher levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular complications (a 37 percent lower chance of heart disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke). These investigators also call for randomized controlled trials to confirm this observation.
Australian researchers actually did computer modeling that suggests having people consume dark chocolate rich in polyphenol compounds could be cost effective as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease. This study is even further removed from a randomized controlled trial, however.
Given the many observations that cacao products such as chocolate are associated with better health, some health experts speculate that a low-sugar high-flavanol chocolate added to metformin might improve the treatment of people with type 2 diabetes.
The COSMOS Cocoa Flavanol Trial:
So far as we know, no one is carrying out such a randomized controlled trial. There is one trial that has been recruiting participants, however. The Women’s Health Initiative has begun the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) (funded by Mars and Pfizer). This placebo-controlled randomized trial will run for four years and test whether taking cocoa flavanols (which won’t, unfortunately, be yummy like chocolate) can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.