Kid-friendly stickers and suckers have been mainstays in pediatric offices for years, but now obstetricians can offer their patients something even better – dark chocolate.
At the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Italian investigators presented the first report showing that a “daily appropriate amount” of dark chocolate in pregnancy improves pregnancy metabolism and decreases the risk of anemia.
They defined “appropriate” as 30 grams per day of chocolate with 70% cocoa content. While this definition wouldn’t fly with most chocolate lovers I know given that nine Hershey’s Kisses equal 41 grams, it seemed to do the trick.
Blood tests showed that women fed dark chocolate beginning at 9-12 weeks gestation had a signficantly lower increase in blood cholesterol concentrations during pregnancy at 35.5% , compared with 56.5% for controls who were free to increase their diet with other preferential foods up to 300 Kcal/day.
Oral glucose tolerance testing revealed no alterations in the 40 women in the chocolate group, while gestational diabetes was detected in 2 of the 40 controls.
No women fed chocolate developed anemia in pregnancy, while roughly 65% of controls needed iron supplementation from 24 weeks onwards.
“It is an appealing idea that a food commonly consumed for pure pleasure could also bring tangible benefits for health,” wrote lead author Dr. Gian Carlo di Renzo and his colleagues at the University of Perugia.
The authors note that it’s been more than 10 years since the first mention in a medical journal about cocoa and chocolate as potential sources of antioxidants for health. Chocolate contains more than 600 chemicals including flavanoids, which are known for their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Recent randomized studies have shown clinically important cardiovascular effects of dark chocolate including correction of endothelial dysfunction and reduction of blood pressure. A recent study from Yale University showed that pregnant women who ate five or more servings of chocolate per week had a lower risk of preeclampsia than those eating less than one serving per week.
In the current analysis, blood pressure values were lower at all time points among women eating chocolate when compared with controls. At the final check up, systolic BP and diastolic BP in controls were increased in controls by a mean of 8.32 mmHg and 3.76 mmHg, respectively.
Importantly, the 160-calorie dark chocolate treat did not affect weight gain during pregnancy. Cesarean section rates were also equivalent at 32% in both groups.
The authors conclude that “dark chocolate is a well accepted and valuable supplemental food in pregnancy, delivering adequate intake of antioxidants.”
Not surprising, patient compliance was nearly 100%.
– Patrice Wendling (on Twitter @pwendl)