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Pregnant? Eat Chocolate!

When a woman gets pregnant, eating turns into a minefield . Swordfish for dinner? Nope, too much mercury. Blue cheese or feta on your salad? Sorry, soft cheeses can carry dangerous bacteria. A couple of glasses of wine with dinner? Forget about it.


Well, here's something that may sound too good to be true: If you're pregnant it looks like you should eat chocolate. Yup, chocolate.

Turns out chocolate appears to protect a pregnant woman from a serious complication of pregnancy known as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a common condition marked by high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine. It can be very dangerous -- even deadly -- for the mom and the baby.

The too-good-to-be-true news about chocolate comes from Elizabeth Triche of Yale University and her colleagues. The researchers studied 2,291 pregnant women who gave birth between 1996 and 2000. They asked the moms-to-be how much chocolate they ate in their first and second trimesters and tested blood from their umbilical cords for theobromine, a telltale component of chocolate.

Women who ate the most chocolate -- about a candy bar a day -- were about 70 percent less likely to develop preeclampsia than those who eat the least, the researchers report in this month's issue of the journal Epidemiology.

The findings mark the first time chocolate has been found to protect against preeclampsia. But they 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, possibly because of substances known as flavanoids -- magnesum and theobromine.

Researchers need to do a lot more work to confirm their findings and figure out what exactly about chocolate is good. And the findings do not mean that pregnant women should pig out on chocolate: Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can lead to all sorts of problems. But Triche says if she was pregnant she'd eat a dark chocolate bar a day. It appears to help a woman get through those hard months in more ways than simply indulging her sweet tooth.

Note correction: This blog incorrectly stated the trimesters during which researchers gathered information about chocolate consumption. The information was gathered in the first and third trimesters.

By Rob Stein  |  May 8, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Motherhood  
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Sweet! Thanks for the post. I'm now in my third trimester, but I'm glad to know that the dark chocolate I've consumed throughout pregnancy may have helped me not develop preeclampsia.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

What about the caffeine in chocolate?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Diabetes with pregnancy should temper high sugar use even if chocolate research says chocolate is beneficial. Be creative and find a sugar free source of dark chocolate and eat small amount because excess weight gain is dangerous to Mom and baby.

Posted by: Rhonda | May 8, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

The most recent studies on caffeine say that as little as two cups of coffee a day can double your risk of miscarriage. Seems like a gamble to me.

Posted by: Caffeine | May 8, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I just called Dr. Triche to ask her about caffeine in chocolate. She says that caffeine can be a problem during pregnancy, but probably only in very high levels -- say the equivalent of about three cups of coffee a day. And there's actually usually very little caffeine in chocolate, especially the higher quality chocolate. So I guess the message is if you're going to indulge, indulge in the best!

Posted by: Rob Stein | May 8, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

An 8 oz cup of coffee has approximately 130 mg of caffeine in it. An ounce of chocolate has about 20 mg of caffeine. If you're eating a 3.5 ounce bar, you are getting only about 1/2 as much caffeine as you would from a cup of coffee.

Posted by: alexandrian | May 8, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I might send this to my churchmember who is in her first trimester and a chocolate lover. The Whole Foods store sells the kind with all-natural sugar in low doses (but it's tres bitter). And I had tea during my pregnancy and nothing happened. So low doses of caffeine don't hurt the baby, but I wouldn't go so far as to eat a bar a day. That sounds insane. I can't tolerate that much sweet.

Posted by: dcp | May 8, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse

When I was pregnant I craved two things: chocolate and citrus. I figured the two balanced each other out. Didn't know I was doing double good for myself and my baby!

Posted by: yummy | May 8, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, eat chocolate. Don't sweat the caffeine. It's not one-one causality people! I'm not waiting for the research that confirms the health benefits of chocolate for men in their 50s.

Posted by: Dave | May 8, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse

This is great news! I love chocolate.
Just one quibble, though; Magnesium is not a flavanoid. Chocolate may also contain other flavanoids besides theobromine

Posted by: Hope | May 8, 2008 8:56 PM | Report abuse

now i can eat chocolate without being told not to...yeah!

Posted by: jalissa | May 9, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Agree with most of the comments above. Theobromine is a mild stimulant and diuretic, similar in action to caffeine, but the combined effect will still be lower than a large cup of coffee. The study probably meant a "normal" 1-oz chocolate bar like Hershey's, not those 3-oz slabs that should be portioned out over several days. Unsweetened Cocoa powder can also lower blood pressure, likely due to the flavonoids and mineral magnesium.

Posted by: RegistrDietician | May 9, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

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