For Chocolate Lovers, Is a Moment on the Lips Forever on the Hips?
It seems like a no-brainer. Chocolate is energy dense and irresistible. Therefore it must contribute to excessive calorie intakes. The average chocolate bar contains around 250 kcal and is part of the food group most nutritionists refer to as “discretionary calories.” Even so, chocolate does contain some other bioactive compounds, and it is also possible that a responsible intake of chocolate does not cause obesity, as diet is more than simply the consumption of one type of food. That is the question asked today by Cuenca-García and co-workers, who looked at chocolate consumption data in the context of body composition in a wide cross-section of European teenagers.
Chocolate is found in a wide array of different products. The USDA food database returns 237 items when “chocolate” is used as a search term. These range from chocolate bars to cookies, breakfast cereals, pancake toppings and spreads, as well as plain cocoa. In information from confectionarynews.com, in the top 20 chocolate-consuming nations, per capita chocolate consumption varies from 4.2 kg per person per year in the Ukraine, to 11.9 kg per person per year in Switzerland. KPMG reports that the global chocolate market will grow in the coming years, however the market is stable in Western Europe and the US.
In the current study, the researchers used data from 1458 adolescents collected by 24-hour dietary recall to determine intake of all products that contained chocolate as their main ingredient. The participants, aged 12.5 to 17.5, lived in cities from nine different European countries.
The researchers calculated average chocolate intake in terms of grams per day from the two 24-hour dietary recalls for their analysis. The median intake in the highest tertile was 42.6 g/day (equivalent to 15.5 kg per year) and in the lowest tertile, intakes were 4.7 g/day (1.7 kg per year). Adolescents in the highest tertile of intake had higher saturated fat and energy intake than adolescents in the lowest tertile, however they also had higher rates of physical activity and lower measures of fatness. The multilevel model found that as chocolate consumption increased, BMI, body fat measured by both skinfold and bioelectrical impedance, and waist circumference decreased. These associations were not affected after adjusting for physical activity or after excluding obese adolescents, who are more likely to underreport food consumption.
What could be causing these results? The most obvious conclusion is that diet is more than just intake of one particular food ingredient. Total calorie balance is important in determining body fatness. For these adolescents, higher intakes of chocolate, saturated fat and energy did generally not lead to excessive weight as they were balanced by increased physical activity and possibly reduced intakes of other foods. Another possibility is that overweight adolescents have reduced their intake of chocolate in an effort to control body weight. The authors also mention that chocolate contains compounds such as flavonoids (Arts and associates), some of which have been associated with improved body-weight regulation especially together with caffeine (Westerterp-Plantega). Hughes and co-workers found that increased flavonoid consumption helped prevent weight gain in a longitudinal study. That increased chocolate consumption was associated with lower BMI was found in a study in adults conducted by Golomb, Koperski and White, but not in a longitudinal study by Greenberg and Buijsse, although the association appeared to be affected by the existence of chronic illness.
The results seem to suggest that chocolate consumption is not associated with obesity in European adolescents. Golomb, Koperski and White state: "the character—as well as the quantity—of calories" is important. While chocolate can hardly be considered a weight-loss product, there are other sources of discretionary calories in the diet, and there are various tactics available to help balance energy intakes and expenditures. Nutrition depends on the totality of the diet and not the consumption of a single, albeit delicious, component.
Magdalena Cuenca-García, Jonatan R. Ruiz, Francisco B. Ortega, Manuel J. Castillo, HELENA study group. Association between chocolate consumption and fatness in European adolescents, Nutrition. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2013.07.011.
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Greenberg JA, Buijsse B. Habitual chocolate consumption may increase body weight in a dose-response manner. PLoS One. 2013 Aug 7;8(8):e70271. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070271. eCollection 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23950919
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