Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and one of the most popular gifts is chocolate – chocolate hearts, chocolate roses, chocolate kisses…. all kinds of chocolate. The question is, can chocolate help you to lose weight? Or can it hurt your efforts? As in everything, it’s all about portion control, so let’s delve into the health benefits of chocolate and see which kind is best for you and your waistline.
According to the World Cocoa Foundation, people worldwide consume more than 3 million tons of cocoa beans per year. That’s a lot of cocoa! The Latin name for cocoa is Theobroma, which means “food of the gods.” Certainly there have to be health benefits of chocolate with an origin like that!
Some health benefits of chocolate include:
- Contains antioxidants, flavonoids and flavanols – Antioxidants help the body’s cells resist damage from free radicals. Flavonoids are plant nutrients that offer antioxidant power. Flavanols are the main type of flavonoids contained in cocoa and chocolate. Dark chocolate also contains resveratrol, which is a powerful antioxidant (it is also found in red wine and grapes).
- Contains some healthy fats – Dark chocolate contains mostly monounsaturated fats like oleic acid, which is important for brain function and the immune system. Dark chocolate does contain some saturated fat, so eat small portions.
- May help keep blood sugar stable – The flavonoids in dark chocolate help reduce insulin resistance by helping the cells to function normally and regain the body’s ability to use insulin efficiently. Dark chocolate also has a low glycemic index, which means it won’t cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels.
- May lower blood pressure and improve blood flow – The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the lining of arteries to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide sends signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and reduces blood pressure.
- May help cholesterol – Consuming dark chocolate can help increase HDL (good cholesterol) and help prevent LDL (bad cholesterol) from oxidation.
- May reduce hunger – The healthy fats found in the cocoa butter can help increase satiety, which can reduce hunger.
- May boost your mood and help you sleep better – Chocolate enhances the action of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which help regulate mood and sleep.
- Contains many vitamins and minerals – Quality dark chocolate of 70-85% cacao contains fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and selenium.
Which kind of chocolate is best?
Milk chocolate and white chocolate contain too much sugar, so let’s nix those options this Valentine’s Day. The healthiest chocolate contains the most antioxidants. The ranking in order with the most antioxidants to least is:
1) Natural cocoa powder
2) Unsweetened baking chocolate
3) Dark chocolate (aim for 70% cacao or higher)
4) Milk chocolate/white chocolate
Since most people don’t like to consume raw cacao, cocoa powder, or unsweetened baking chocolate, your best bet is to have dark chocolate that is 70-85% cacao or higher.
How much chocolate should you eat?
Chocolate, like all foods, contains calories. So, the trick is to not eat too much, which could lead to weight gain. Just eat enough during the week to enjoy the benefits, which is about 1 ounce a few times per week. 1 square of 70-85% dark chocolate is about 60 calories, and 1 ounce is about 170 calories.
Overall – can chocolate help with weight loss?
I say that yes, chocolate can help with weight loss, in addition to many other health benefits. Enjoy 1-2 squares of dark chocolate a few times per week, savor each bite, and reap the benefits it has to offer. Also, tell your Valentine that you only want 70-85% dark chocolate.
Justine SanFilippo is a certified health coach, nutritionist, certified personal trainer and author of the book Lose Your Inches Without Losing Your Mind! To purchase the book, download a free chapter and for more free resources to lose your inches, check out her website at www.happyhealthypeople.com.