Articles - A Healthy Diet:

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Or in other words: how much information do people need? “Chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease” was the message from the German Cardiac Society and the European Society of Cardiology that popped up in the media shortly before Easter. This welcome news was taken at face value and, by the time the sun rose on Easter Sunday, had spread from Potsdam to Austria: on closer inspection of the conditions of the study, however, the health benefits actually melted away.

Let’s look at the facts again: the average German eats between four and eight kilograms of chocolate per year, depending on which source you take your data from. But this study was based on a group of people who were very circumspect in their consumption habits, eating just 2.7 kilograms of chocolate each year. That’s fewer than two pieces per day (could you manage it?). Only at these levels of consumption does the risk of heart attack and stroke sink from 2.2 percent to 1.2 percent, and even then that is only compared to a group of healthy people who eat just 630 grammes of chocolate a year, which is less than half a piece per day! Unfortunately there is no current data to verify what percentage of the German population this scenario applies to. The real message, which would also have been the responsible way to communicate with consumers, should have been: reduce your chocolate intake and you may benefit by a maximum of one percent compared with people who eat hardly any chocolate at all.

Put like that, I wonder if anyone would still have been interested in these findings? Lead researcher Dr Brian Buijsse is also suitably cautious about the results of the study: “The message is that a really small amount of chocolate has a positive effect on health – that’s how it looks at the moment,” the scientist from the German Institute of Human Nutrition told aid infodienst. “I still would not recommend that people eat chocolate to lower their blood pressure, it’s too soon for that.” On the contrary: right at the end of the report, the last paragraph states that one should avoid putting on weight, because as you know, that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately it is impossible to know how many people now might have harmed their health because they only half read or misunderstood the lovely news about chocolate and are eating too much of it. Or what percentage of the population now feel better about themselves because they no longer have a guilty conscience when they eat chocolate. And one other unknown quantity is how many people are now reaching for the dark chocolate (as recommended), and thus increasing their consumption of cadmium.

Surely the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment could have stepped in here, since there was a warning back in 2007 related to dark chocolate and its cadmium content. A whole new field of research could open up into diseases caused by the information given to the public about food; in other words, ill health caused by too much information. In this context, the report on Easter eggs is just one example out of many. The question that remains unanswered is this: do consumers really have to be told about every single research finding, or wouldn’t it be better to check what information is actually helpful?


Source:, Gesa Maschkowski, Britta Klein