Dark Chocolate Is Good For Diabetics – Oh Really?

October 20, 2010

You may have seen a similar headline that in your daily newspaper this week (without the boom really of course) and it relates to results from a study by a group of researchers from the University of Hull and the Hull York Medical School.

I never thought I would be the one to try and dissuade anyone from eating chocolate, but there are some serious drawbacks to my mind with this research.

The study reports that dark chocolate has significant health benefits for people with Type 2 diabetes as HDL (high density lipoprotein) or ‘good’ cholesterol is improved and overall cholesterol balance is enhanced when patients consume 45g of dark chocolate each day over 16 weeks.

The patients were given 85% cocoa solids or a placebo which contained no cocoa solids but was dyed the same colour as the dark chocolate. No mention is made of how the poor group, placebo fared, rather than having to consume something that sounds quite unpleasant.

Steve Atkin, Professor of Diabetes and Endocrinology, who led the study says: “People with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease and since one of the main contributory factors to heart disease is a low level of HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, the findings that dark chocolate can improve this, means the results of this study are hugely significant.”

Hmm, I agree with the first part of the sentence but not at all convinced about his conclusion. He goes on to say “Chocolate with a high cocoa content should be included in the diet of individuals with Type 2 diabetes as part of a sensible, balanced approach to diet and lifestyle. This study demonstrates that it can offer a potential reduction in cardiovascular risk without detrimental risks on weight, insulin resistance or glycaemic control.”

I do wonder about doctors I do really — however as he is a professor perhaps he is slightly different — but firstly there is rarely such a thing as a sensible approach chocolate intake for many people and secondly I do not see how a chocolate bar does not have a detrimental risk for weight or glycaemic control.

I’m certainly no expert, but Dr. Iain Frame, Director of Research at leading health charity Diabetes UK, is and takes the same view and he should know what he’s talking about. This was his response to that piece of research:

“On no account should people take away the message from this study, conducted in only 12 people, that eating even a small amount of dark chocolate is going to help reduce their cholesterol levels. The tiny health benefit of this compound found in cocoa-rich chocolate would be hugely outweighed by the fat and sugar content. The design of the study is also somewhat unrealistic as they asked participants to eat only around half the size of a normal, dark chocolate bar every day for eight weeks.

That is something that I can agree with, but the really critical element for me in this research is that yet again it is being paraded as a result on an incredibly tiny sample. 12 people might make up a jury but they do not weigh very heavily for me against the 3 million diabetics estimated in the UK.
This research is on far too small scale to draw such a huge and potentially damaging conclusion from and although there certainly might be some benefit in investigating further. I will let Dr. Iain Frame, of Diabetes UK, have the last word. “It would, however, be interesting to see if further research could find a way of testing whether polyphenols could be added to foods which weren’t high in sugar and saturated fat such as chocolate.”

Until then by all means each chocolate if you are diabetic, but very little and not very often would be my advice and if you would like further information on diabetes please visit www.diabetesuk.org


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