Nibble on chocolate for a healthy pregnancy

by Julie Snyder

noshing on chocolateEating chocolate lowers your risk of pregnancy complications. Wow! A mom-to-be's dream come true!

Pregnant women hear about dietary restrictions all the time. No sushi! Raw meats aren't safe. Skip the swordfish because it might have too much mercury. No feta cheese on your salad because pregnant women are told to avoid soft cheeses. Unfortunately the list is long.

Here's great news that should brighten your day! Chocolate is on the menu! Go ahead and eat some. Apparently, it protects moms-to-be from preeclampsia, which is a serious pregnancy complication.

Chocolate lowers risk of preeclampsia

Scientific research suggests that eating chocolate -- the darker the better -- during your pregnancy may indeed be good for mother and baby.

A study by Elizabeth Triche of Yale University found that women who ate more chocolate were less likely to develop preeclampsia than women who ate less. The findings mark the first time chocolate has been found to protect against preeclampsia. But these findings fit with earlier research indicating that chocolate is good for the heart, in part by reducing blood pressure. Dark chocolate appears to be the best.

Mothers who ate the most chocolate and those whose babies had the highest concentration of theobromine in their cord blood were the least likely to develop preeclampsia. Women who had eaten five or more servings of chocolate a week in their third trimester were 40 percent less likely to develop pre-eclampsia than those who had eaten chocolate less than once a week.

Chocolate for a happier baby

Katri Raikkonen at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and her colleagues discovered that babies born to women who had been eating chocolate daily during pregnancy were more active and "positively reactive" -- a measure that encompasses traits such as smiling and laughter. The babies of stressed women who had regularly consumed chocolate showed less fear of new situations than babies of stressed women who abstained. The researchers speculate that these effects can result from chemicals in chocolate associated with positive mood.

Choose Your Chocolate

Chocolate contains more than 600 beneficial compounds including flavonoids, magnesium, and theobromine. Since recent research suggests chocolate, especially dark chocolate might be good for mom and baby, we've put together these shopping tips.

  • Less sweetener: Choose chocolates with the least amount of refined white sugar or other sweetener.
  • Cacao percentage: Look for bars containing at least 60 percent cacao
  • Go organic: Certified organic chocolate ensures there are no harmful pesticide residues or GMOs

Dark chocolate is rich in iron and twice as high in flavonoids as milk chocolate. Since dairy products may inhibit the body’s absorption of flavonoids, choose high quality, dark chocolate. The research definitely suggests that a little chocolate can do a body and her baby good!

About the studies: Triche, Elizabeth; Grosso, Laura; Belanger, Kathleena; Darefsky, Amy; Benowitz, Neal; Bracken, Michael; "Chocolate Consumption in Pregnancy and Reduced Likelihood of Preeclampsia." August 2010 issue of the Annals of Epidemiology. Women who eat chocolate are at decreased risk of developing preeclampsia. The study looked at both self-reported chocolate consumption and at cord levels of theobromine which is made when other chemicals in chocolate are broken down.

Katri Raikkonen. "Sweet babies: chocolate consumption during pregnancy and infant temperament at six months." Early Human Development, Volume 76, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 139-145. Pregnant women were asked to rate their stress levels and chocolate consumption. After the babies were born, researchers looked for an association between the amount of chocolate their mothers had eaten and the babies' behavior. Six months after birth, the researchers asked mothers to rate their infants' behavior in various categories, including fear, soothability, smiling and laughter.

How do you like your chocolate?