The ‘chocolate helps weight loss’ hoax

How hard is it to fool people with “news” about nutrition and weight loss? Not hard at all, as it happens. From I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.

“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily”, page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Here’s how we did it. [continue]

See also: Why a journalist scammed the media into spreading bad chocolate science at NPR.

Chocolate teapot experiment

Now this is the kind of science I really like: How useless is a Chocolate Teapot? From The Naked Scientists:

You have heard the saying, but it is meaningless unless you know exactly how useful a chocolate teapot actually is. We try to find out how thick the walls of a chocolate teapot would have to be to let you brew tea… [continue]

The site includes photos, a video, and look, there’s a chocolate teapot!

(Link found here at Scribal Terror.)

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Earliest chocolate drink found

From the Telegraph: Earliest chocolate drink found.

Our love affair with chocolate began at least 500 years earlier than previously thought, and was combined with a love of alcohol too, according to traces of the treat found in pottery shards uncovered in Honduras. (…)

Today, researchers say that residue of the chemical theobromine, which occurs in Mesoamerica only in the cacao plant used to make chocolate, is present in the shattered remains of liquid-holding pottery vessels dating from somewhere between 1400 and 1100 BC, marking the earliest known chocolate drink of the New World. [continue]

Chocoholics have new tool to find their next fix

From Chocoholics have new tool to find their next fix.

A new Canadian service is providing a treasure map for chocolate lovers that instantly allows sweet-toothed travellers to locate the nearest place to get their next fix.

Charting the world’s chocolate shops using Google Maps technology, also gives users access to a brief description of each destination, allows them to read or write reviews of the various shops and plot their own favourite chocolate sources in cities across the globe.

The free site isn’t a sinister product of "some powerful chocolate lobby set out to weaken our resistance to the wundertreat," as online travel writer Amanda Kludt first suspected. The interactive map is sponsored by Vancouver-based Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts, whose founder Pam Williams views it as a Good Samaritan outreach of sorts – a way to ensure no hunger for cocoa is left unsatisfied. [continue]

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Chocolate lowers blood pressure

From the BBC: Chocolate lowers blood pressure.

A mouthful of dark chocolate each day could reduce blood pressure, cutting the risk of stroke, research suggests.

Forty-four people with raised blood pressure were put into two groups. One ate six grams of dark chocolate daily, the other the same amount of white.

The first group saw blood pressure fall slightly, but the others saw no change, researchers wrote in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA). [continue]


Oooh, this Chocoatl place sounds like it’d be worth a visit. From the Vancouver Sun: Sweetness from way down south.

When Thelmis Velgis opened Chocoatl in Yaletown a year ago, he dove deep into chocolate and history. Figuratively speaking.

The shop specializes in chocolate drinks long established in Mexico (going back a couple thousand years), but new to Vancouver.

The name of their shop, Chocoatl (pronounced choco-atel), comes from the Aztecs. "There are two theories about the meaning," says Velgis. "Choco means bitter. ‘Atl’ could mean water as they didn’t use milk. The other theory is that the word mimics the "choco-choco-choco" sound the wooden molinillo makes when it’s whisking foam in a chocolate drink," he says. "It used to be a delicate art. Now we have steamer machines."

At the shop, chocolate lovers can try hot chocolate made with chocolate infused with lavender, rose, champurrado (corn), spices or orange. They do the infusing process themselves. His chocolates are single origin products, meaning they are from one farm. "I have friends in Central America. I have my importers," he says.

Soon they will be making their own chocolate in Mexico, he says. "Why? Because I can do it. It’s not that much fun buying it already made. You don’t get the quality you want. If I make it myself, I can choose where the cocoa beans come from to get a specific taste. It’s like coffee."

In Mexico, he says, chocolate has been primarily a drink and cooking ingredient. "It’s more traditional to drink chocolate than eat it," he says.

The first chocolate drink in Mexico was a mix of ground cocoa beans, water, wine, and peppers. The Spaniards tweaked it by heating the mixture and sweetening with sugar. Once it hit England, milk was added to the beverage. [continue]

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Cocoa nutrient for ‘lethal ills’

From the Beeb: Cocoa nutrient for ‘lethal ills’.

A nutrient in cocoa called epicatechin appears to lower the risk of four common killer diseases, work suggests.

Among the Kuna people of Panama, who can drink up to 40 cups of cocoa per week, rates of stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes are less than 10%.

The Kuna also appear to live longer than other Panama inhabitants and do not get dementia, a US scientist reports in Chemistry and Industry.

Experts stressed that genes and other lifestyle factors also play a part.

However, researcher Dr Norman Hollenberg, of Harvard Medical School, says the cocoa chemical would benefit other populations too, including the Western world, [continue]

Both wine and chocolate contain epicatechin. How much better can the news get?

German cuisine gets molecular makeover

From Deutsche Welle: German Cuisine Gets Molecular Makeover.

Licorice is paired with salmon. Caviar gets served atop white chocolate or warm ice cream. If a dish sounds like it defies the laws of nature, it’s likely a matter of molecular gastronomy, an approach to cooking that has entered the mainstream over the past few years.

The most well known practitioner of this innovative way of cooking is Spain’s three-star chef Ferran Adria. At the beginning of the new millennium he grabbed headlines with creations such as apple caviar, parmesan spaghetti and blackberry-tobacco sorbet.

German cuisine is also receiving a molecular twist as more chefs turn to physics and chemistry to create unusual dining experiences. One practitioner of molecular gastronomy is the Düsseldorf-based chef Richard Nicolaus.

His restaurant, km 747, is located in a quiet area near the Rhine River. The kitchen is a far cry from the typical mad scientist’s laboratory with nary a test tube or microscope in sight. The science begins when Nicolaus starts cooking.

“We’re going to make a satay skewer from tuna fish, and what’s different is that the tuna fish will be fried in a sugar water mixture at 120 degrees (Celsius),” Nicolaus said.[continue]