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I think many of us know that all too familiar feeling of guilt when indulging in copious amounts of sweets, especially chocolate. Studies show, however, that consuming chocolate in moderate amounts may not be all that bad, especially for pregnant women and their developing children.

There have already been studies showing some health benefits of chocolate. Chocolate contains a compound called flavanols, a type of flavonoid, which provides health benefits through anti-oxidant effects and more. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cholesterol. The darker the chocolate is, the more flavanol it contains, which is why it is commonly said that dark chocolate is very good for you. However, studies now find that chocolate may be helpful not just for us, but for our developing babies.

A six-week old fetus.

Image Source: Neil Harding

Due to the conflicting studies on whether chocolate helps in preeclampsia or not, a team of researchers, headed by Dr. Emmanuel Bujold of the Université Laval Québec City, Canada, looked at 129 expecting mothers from 11 to 14 weeks. Based on the uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index, which measures uterine, placental and fetal blood flow, all the women had some type of risk of hypertension, preeclampsia, and other outcomes. The mothers were assigned randomly to consume 30 grams of either low- or high-flavanol chocolate daily for the span of twelve weeks. The uterine artery Doppler pulsatility was used once again at the end of the twelve weeks, and then the women were monitored until birth.

The results? No difference between the low- or high-flavanol groups in terms of hypertension, preeclampsia, placental weight or birth weight. However, there was great improvement seen in both groups, more so than was expected, suggesting that either low- or high- flavanol chocolate contributes significantly to fetal growth and development. This also brings up the suggestion that chocolate’s benefits may not entirely be due to the amount of flavanol in it. However, since there was no group in the study that did not ingest any chocolate at all, nothing can be said about the overall effect of chocolate on preeclampsia risk.

Larger studies still need to be done in order to observe the total effects of chocolate on pregnancy and related hypertensive disorders. So, what is the recommendation for expectant mothers regarding chocolate? Studies have suggested dark chocolate could help placental function and reduce the risk of preeclampsia. However, overindulging is warned against, as chocolate still contains high sugar and fat content. But one thing’s for sure: there are no more guilty feelings about sneaking in a piece of chocolate here and there.

Feature Image Source: chocolate! by LongitudeLatitude

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