Eating 30 g of chocolate daily during pregnancy was linked to benefits for fetal growth and development in the new study.
The study results are likely to be warmly welcomed by moms-to-be, given the lengthy list of foods women are told to avoid during pregnancy.
While chocolate itself is - thankfully - absent from this no-go list, expectant mothers are recommended against overindulging in the tasty treat due to its fat, sugar and caffeine content.
There are many benefits that may come with moderate chocolate consumption, however. Chocolate contains flavanols - a type of flavonoid - that have been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular problems and lower cholesterol; the darker the chocolate, the more flavanols it contains.
Previous studies have also suggested that moderate chocolate consumption during pregnancy may lower the risk of preeclampsia - where the blood supply to the fetus is reduced due to the mother's high blood pressure.
However, Dr. Emmanuel Bujold, of the Université Laval Québec City, Canada, notes that the results of research assessing the link between chocolate intake during pregnancy and preeclampsia have been conflicting, spurring him and his colleagues to find out more.
Both low- and high-flavanol chocolate may have fetal benefits
The researchers enrolled 129 expectant mothers with a singleton pregnancy who were between 11-14 weeks' gestation.
All women had double notching on the uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index at study baseline. The uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index is a test that measures uterine, placental and fetal blood flow, and notches are an indicator of the risk of preeclampsia, hypertension and other possible pregnancy outcomes.
The expectant mothers were randomized to consume 30 g of either low- or high-flavanol chocolate daily for 12 weeks. Uterine artery Doppler pulsatility was measured again at the end of the 12 weeks, and the women were followed-up until they gave birth.
The team found that there were no differences in preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, placental weight and birthweight between the low- and high-flavanol chocolate groups.
However, the researchers identified a significant improvement in uterine artery Doppler pulsatility among both chocolate groups, suggesting that both low- and high-flavonol chocolate may benefit fetal growth and development.
This improvement was much greater than what is normally expected among the general population, the team notes.
"This study indicates that chocolate could have a positive impact on placenta and fetal growth and development and that chocolate's effects are not solely and directly due to flavanol content," says Dr. Bujold.
Medical News Today asked Dr. Bujold whether they recommend that expectant mothers indulge in a daily dose of chocolate to improve fetal outcome. He replied:
"We cannot speculate on the overall effect of chocolate on the risk of preeclampsia from our study results because we did not have a group of women who were not taking chocolate.
However, previous epidemiological studies along with our results suggest that consumption of dark chocolate during pregnancy could help in the improvement of placental function and the reduction of preeclampsia."
He added that the next step for the team is to conduct a large randomized control trial in order to better determine whether chocolate intake among expectant mothers can lower the risk of preeclampsia and other pregnancy-related hypertensive disorders.
Our Knowledge Center article - "Chocolate: health benefits, facts, research" - provides more information on how chocolate may be good for us, as well as the risks associated with its consumption.
Last November, MNT reported on another study that is likely to have been welcomed by expectant mothers. Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the study suggests that consuming moderate amounts of caffeine during pregnancy does not impact offspring's intelligence.