Yesterday’s newspapers were full of grand claims about the health benefits of eating chocolate. The Daily Mail called it a ‘superfood’, saying that it’s good for your brain, skin, libido and your figure.
The Express ran with: ‘A chocolate a day: How just two bars daily can add years to your life’.
What was this based on? Cardiovascular researchers at Aberdeen University published a study in the scientific journal Heart which made a modest claim: that people at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease eat less chocolate. And that’s essentially it.
It was an observational study making no claims about the direction of cause and effect. The researchers were also keen to stress that the questionnaire format they used produces recall bias, and that participants are likely to underestimate their consumption of certain types of food.
They have no idea if chocolate is making people healthier, or if already healthy people happen to treat themselves occasionally. Which seems more likely? A typical 100g bar of Dairy Milk contains 56 grams of sugar and 30.5 grams of fat. The nutritional benefits of this ‘superfood’ are happening in a very small window, if at all.
Because participants were more likely to eat milk chocolate, the researchers said that ’flavonoids, but also other compounds, possibly related to milk constituents, such as calcium and fatty acids, may provide an explanation for the observed association’ (my emphasis).
The study’s conclusion is much less exciting than the one we saw in the papers. ‘There does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk.’
In other words, these researchers haven’t found any reason you should avoid eating small amounts of chocolate if you’re concerned about the health of your heart. But that’s not saying much at all. Which the journalists writing about chocolate as superfood should have realised, if they’d read the paper. Perhaps they did realise it and wrote it anyway. Health ‘reporting’ is like that these days.