Chocolate: Pregnancy super-food?

By Ann Griswold • Published: July 15th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Pregnant women hardly need an excuse to eat chocolate, but here’s a good one just in case. A recent study has shown that eating five or more servings of chocolate during the first and third trimesters can stave off life-threatening complications like preeclampsia [PRE-EE-CLAMP-SEE-A], or pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Yale University researchers studied chocolate consumption in more than twenty-three-hundred pregnant women. They suspected a component of chocolate called theobromine (THE-O-BRO-MEEN) was linked to improved heart health during pregnancy. Their hunch was correct: Women who ate at least five servings of chocolate a week during the third trimester had a forty percent lower risk of developing preeclampsia and gave birth to infants with higher levels of theobromine in their umbilical cord blood. First-semester chocoholics enjoyed a nineteen percent lower risk of preeclampsia.

Experts say dark chocolate is more beneficial than other types, partly because it contains about two-and-a-half times more theobromine than milk chocolate. Scientists suspect the chemical acts as an antioxidant and enhances circulation in the womb.

Preeclampsia is a serious problem, affecting an estimated ten percent of all pregnant women. It’s often diagnosed at routine check-ups, but left untreated, it can lead to premature birth, low birth weight and even maternal or infant death. Experts say pregnant chocoholics can reduce their risk of complications even further by avoiding salt, caffeine and alcohol, staying well-rested and drinking six to eight glasses of water each day. And as with anything when the stork is circling, check with a doctor before making major dietary changes.