Mmmm, chocolate. Did you know that it’s more than a delicious treat? Dark chocolate can have therapeutic effects and may help with weight loss! I know this is great news.
However, that doesn’t mean you should go stuffing yourself full of chocolate bars. Just like all delicious treats, it has its drawbacks too.
Using cacao for its health benefits isn’t new, though. This remedy dates back at least 3000 years. It all comes from the cocoa bean. Our understanding of cacao and cacao powder has evolved along with modern science.
Dark chocolate is chocolate that is made up of 45 to 85 percent cocoa solids. It is high in flavonoids and most minerals. Let’s get into the finer details of dark chocolate and what it can do for you.
Is dark chocolate weight loss possible? Let’s find out.
What are the benefits of dark chocolate?
Decreases hunger and appetite
Dark chocolate can help to decrease appetite and hunger levels. And this is backed by science. One study in particular looked at 14 healthy postmenopausal women. Those who ate dark chocolate (80 percent cocoa) had less food intake afterwards.
Dark chocolate contains many biologically active components. These include catechins, procyanidins, and theobromine from cocoa and cocoa powder.
These compounds affect the cardiovascular system via multiple different mechanisms. Some of these compounds affect the cardiovascular system directly. Others affect heart and blood vessel health indirectly.
Intervention studies have suggested that cocoa improves blood pressure, platelet aggregation, and endothelial function. These have shown benefit in both healthy volunteers and those with metabolic dysfunction.
Based on extensive research, the leading health benefits of cacao seem to stem from epicatechin. Epicatechin is a type of cocoa flavanol-the process of manufacturing dark chocolate eeps the epicatechin in. However, milk chocolate does not contain significant amounts of epicatechin.
Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure and lipids. It also enhances nitric oxide bioavailability. Nitric oxide helps the blood vessels to relax and lowers blood pressure. Dark chocolate may also help to lower cholesterol.
There is strong evidence showing an association between dark chocolate and increased flow-mediated vasodilatation. There is also moderate evidence for an association between dark chocolate and improved blood glucose and lipid metabolism.
Scientific analysis showed that cocoa products with around 100 milligrams of epicatechin could reliably increase flow-mediated vasodilatation. Cocoa flavonol doses of around 900 milligrams or higher may decrease blood pressure in specific individuals as well.
Evidence shows that dark chocolate helps to lower inflammation. Researchers believe it does this by improving mitochondrial structure and function.
A recent randomized clinical trial suggested that there are beneficial effects of vasodilating flavonols in dark chocolate on visual function.
Enhances the immune system
Dark chocolate can help enhance the immune system. This is because of its polyphenol content.
Scientific studies show the ability of polyphenols to modulate the human immune system. They do this by affecting the proliferation of white blood cells. They also affect the production of cytokines and other factors that participate in the immune defense system.
Help prevent clot formation
Dark chocolate can have antithrombotic effects. This is due to the high content of polyphenols present in dark chocolate. Evidence shows that dark chocolate leads to improvements in platelet aggregation and adhesion.
Improves the gut microbiome
One study looked at 30 volunteers with moderate obesity. Each volunteer ate ten grams of dark chocolate daily for one month. By the end of the trial, these volunteers had more Lactobacillus bacteria in their guts. This is a good, healthy type of bacteria that we want in our intestines. The fact that there was more Lactobacillus after eating chocolate demonstrates that dark chocolate has potential as a prebiotic. A prebiotic is a food that feeds probiotics in the gut.
A high chocolate diet is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory flavonoids and dietary minerals. This rich nutrient content gives dark chocolate potential to benefit bone health. One study found that adolescents consuming chocolate had greater longitudinal bone growth.
Helps with diabetes
Studies show an inverse correlation between dietary intake of flavonols and the incidence of diabetes. What does this mean? More flavonols in the diet, less diabetes.
Flavonoids in the cocoa plant ameliorate insulin resistance. They do this by improving endothelial function, altering glucose metabolism, and reducing oxidative stress. In fact, oxidative stress is one of the main culprits in insulin resistance and blood sugar dysregulation.
Since cocoa certainly has effects on endothelial function, this points to possible effects on insulin sensitivity. There is a reciprocal relationship between insulin resistance and endothelial function.
Overall, studies show that cocoa may be useful in slowing progression to type 2 diabetes. It also improves insulin resistance in metabolic syndrome. Several smaller studies show that cocoa can have therapeutic potential in preventing heart complications in diabetic patients.
What are the drawbacks of dark chocolate?
Potential effects on cardiovascular health
You may be wondering why we told you dark chocolate is good for your cardiovascular health, and now we’re telling you it’s not. The effect of dark chocolate is complicated. This is because of the added sugar and fat content of chocolate. Chocolate is naturally made up of fats such as oleic acid, stearic acid, and palmitic acid.
Oleic acid may be a healthy fat, but stearic acid and palmitic acid are saturated fats. They have been linked to heart disease. These transiently and negatively impact endothelial function. Part of this is due to insulin signaling and nitric oxide bioavailability.
Further, sugar and epicatechin may oppose each other, and we know that epicatechin is the component of a dark chocolate bar with several health benefits.
Components of dark chocolate, such as cocoa butter, sugar, and methylxanthines, may be detrimental to bone.
Human studies looking at the role of chocolate consumption on serum bone markers and bone mineral density have been inconsistent. Part of this is because the composition between different types of dark chocolate varies so much. Therefore, the nutrient and bioactive content of various types of dark chocolate will differ.
Some people like the bitterness of dark chocolate, and that’s great! But many people dislike its bitter taste. Flavonols naturally impart a bitter, astringent flavor to foods. This is why food manufacturers will often cover up the bitter taste with aggressive processing and adulteration with other flavors, such as peanut butter.
Recent reports show that not all varieties of dark chocolate are created equally. This is why it is difficult to talk about dark chocolate’s potential health benefits without talking about the variety we see between different types of dark chocolate.
Further, extensive processing, dilution, and addition of flavor modifiers improve the palatability of dark chocolate. However, this also has negative nutritional and clinical benefits. Manufacturers dumping a whole bunch of sugar into a chocolate bar will boost your blood sugar levels and hinder health benefits. And even though milk chocolate and white chocolate may be known as less healthy versions, dark chocolate isn’t always healthy dark chocolate. Organic dark chocolate with 70% cacao is preferred.
Tips for healthy weight loss
- Drink lots of water: aim for one to two liters per day.
- Drink green tea: green tea contains polyphenols like dark chocolate, but with no milk or sugar added.
- Experiment with intermittent fasting: try fasting for 12-16 hours per day
- Cut back on added, refined sugars: this goes for sweeteners too, since they impact your insulin resistance and sensitivity.
- Eat less refined carbohydrates: instead of white carbs, go for complex carbohydrates.
- Use a smaller plate when eating: science shows this helps you to eat less at each meal.
- Exercise portion control: remember that one portion of protein is your palm’s size without the fingers. And one portion of carbs is the size of your loosely closed fist.
- Keep healthy options available around you in case you get hungry: if you have healthy foods conveniently ready to eat, you won’t be as likely to reach for the junk options!
- Ask your health care provider about taking a probiotic: probiotics help with weight management.
- Do weight training: using free weights or bodyweight exercises such as squats and push-ups.
- Do aerobic exercise: cardio such as running, walking, or dancing.
- Eat lots of vegetables: eat colorful, leafy vegetables since they are full of nutrients but low on calories.
- Minimize fat intake
- Use protein powder to make sure you are getting enough protein in
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Harness a healthy relationship with food, and beat your food addiction
- Don’t drink your calories (cut back on soda, fruit juice, and sugary coffee beverages)
- Try a low carb diet.
- Eat real, whole foods.
- Instead of yo-yo dieting or crash dieting, make healthy living a lifestyle.
- Chew your food slowly.
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Above all, dark chocolate has a wide range of benefits, one of which is that it can help with weight loss.
But do keep in mind that it’s the polyphenols and, in particular, epicatechin that has benefit. Once manufacturers start adding ingredients like milk and sugar, dark chocolate’s cons start to outweigh the pros.
So, if you want help with weight loss or to combat weight gain, consider dark chocolate and the tips above. Moreover, as always, speak to your health care provider to see what they suggest.