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Chocolate and hunger: A dangerous duo?

As a member of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, I have as colleagues some of the most accomplished Registered Dietitians in the world.

Today’s guest columnist is Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, who generously shared this article from her blog.

Nancy Clark is an internationally respected sports nutritionist, weight coach, nutrition author, and workshop leader. She is a registered dietitian (RD) who is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She is also a certified WellCoach®. Nancy specializes in nutrition for performance, life-long health, and the nutritional management of eating disorders. Contact her at www.nancyclarkrd.com

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD

Chocolate and Hunger: A Dangerous Duo?

By Nancy Clark

“Between Halloween and New Year’s Eve, I feel surrounded by chocolate. It’s everywhere!!!” reported a self-proclaimed chocoholic. “I try so hard to not eat it, but I inevitably succumb, and I inevitably gain weight. Thank goodness for January First!!!”

If you share the same love-hate relationship with chocolate, keep reading. And be thankful this so-called “bad food” offers benefits.

The Good News

Chocolate is made from cocoa, a plant. It is a rich source of health-protective phyto (plant) nutrients, just like you’d get from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Two tablespoons of natural cocoa powder (the kind used in baking) offers the same antioxidant power as 3/4 cup of blueberries or 1.5 glasses of red wine.

Of all the types of chocolate, dark chocolate is the richest source of phytonutrients. Unfortunately, dark chocolate has a slightly bitter taste and most people prefer the sweeter milk chocolate (with more sugar and saturated fat).
One phytonutrient in cocoa is nitrate. Nitrate gets converted into nitric oxide, a compound known to increase blood flow and, in high doses, enhance athletic performance.
Other types of phytonutrients in cocoa are flavonoids (also found in tea, apples, and onions). Epidemiological surveys suggest these flavonoids reduce the risk of heart disease in people who regularly consume chocolate (1).

The Bad News

Most people commonly eat chocolate in bursts—a lot in a day, such as a reward on a Friday afternoon, or indulging on Halloween.

Depriving oneself of daily chocolate easily creates urges to binge-eat when given the chance. You know the scenario: “Sunday is my ‘cheat day’— my last chance to eat Chocolate Kisses for the week. I stuff ‘em in!!!” The question arises: Would enjoying two Hershey’s Kisses every day reduce the urge to devour the whole bowl of them at once?

Taking the power away from chocolate

If you like chocolate too much—to the extent you have trouble stopping eating it once you start, an easy way to take the power away from chocolate (and other sweets) is to eat it more often in appropriate portions. Trying to stay away from it will backfire. Think about it this way: Do apples have power over you? No. You give yourself permission to eat an apple whenever you want. So why does chocolate have power over you? Because you try to not eat it.

To take the power away from chocolate, enjoy some every day, such as for dessert after lunch or planned into an afternoon snack. By regularly eating chocolate, it will become a commonplace food, just like eggs, apples, or carrots. Give daily chocolate a try?

Note to parents: Denial and deprivation lead to overeating in kids, as well as in adults. Letting your kids enjoy—and self-regulate their intake of—(Halloween) candy is the better path than forbidding them to eat it. Do you really want to be the food police?

Living without Cravings for Chocolate

Some people believe they are born with a sweet tooth. Not the case. When the body is hungry (and people’ bodies can get very hungry), it craves quick energy, sugar. The solution to sugar cravings is to prevent hunger by eating enough quality-calories earlier in the day. Unfortunately, I meet way too many clients who believe food is fattening or they have no time to eat. They live with a niggling hunger that can easily explode into a chocolate binge. They are not chocoholics; they are just people who have gotten way too hungry.

Fortunately, there are ways to manage sugar cravings.

1) Prevent hunger by eating more breakfast and lunch.
2) Plan sweets into your overall healthful daily food plan.

Chocolate cake for breakfast?

If you would really enjoy eating chocolate as a regular part of your sports diet/weight management program, I suggest you eat chocolate at breakfast. Yes, chocolate cake for breakfast enhances weight loss — according to Daniela Jacubowicz Ph.D. (2). In her research with 193 subjects with obesity (but no diabetes), half ate a 300-calorie protein-based breakfast. The others ate a 600-calorie breakfast that included protein plus dessert, such as chocolate cake.

She instructed both groups to eat the same amount of total calories: 1,400 (for women) and 1,600 (for men). In the first 16 weeks, both groups lost an average of 33 pounds per person. But in the next 16 weeks of the study, the group with the smaller breakfast complied poorly with the diet and regained an average of 22 pounds per person. The dessert-with-breakfast group continued to lose another 15 pounds each. By 32-weeks, they had lost about 40 pounds more than their peers.

Jacubowicz noticed those who had dessert with breakfast had fewer cravings for sweets later in the day for 2 reasons:

1) By frontloading their calories with the 600-calorie breakfast, they were less hungry and less likely to stray from the diet.

2) When they satisfied their cravings for sweets/treats in the morning, they were less tempted later in the day.

So what does this research mean for you?

1) Eat a satisfying breakfast that leaves you feeling content. Do not stop eating breakfast just because you think you should, but rather because you feel satiated. 2) If you want a treat, such as chocolate, eat it at breakfast as opposed to overindulging at night. Really, is there a health difference between enjoying dessert after breakfast instead of after dinner?

3) Even on a weight reduction diet, you should eat what you truly want to eat, including chocolate, in an appropriate portion.

The bottom line

By no means is chocolate the key to a healthy sports diet, nor is eating lots of dark chocolate preferable to snacking on apples and bananas. But we can certainly enjoy chocolate as a small part of a well-balanced sports diet. Just make sure it does not crowd-out other nutrient-dense foods. As always, moderation is the key.

References

Buijsse B, Feskens EJ, Kok FJ, Kromhout D. Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Arch Intern Med. 27;166(4):411-7, 2006.
Jakubowicz D, O Froy, J Wainstein, M Boaz. Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite scores and weight loss maintenance in overweight and obese adults. Steroids77(4): 323-331, 2012.

7 thoughts on “Chocolate and hunger: A dangerous duo?

  1. Chocolate and coffee are two of the great things about Ecuador. It’s not the chocolate that’s a problem. It’s the sugar…Take a bite of unsweetened chocolate. You will not get addicted to it….sure thing…

  2. Nice article. As a Holistic Practitioner for many years, I found that people that craved sugar often could satisfy that by eating more protein. Increasing their protein on a daily basis seemed to feed the body with more sustained energy levels, so the desire for the quick energy bursts abated.

    1. That’s a funny question, Marc! It is a stock photo that I used to try and illustrate Nancy’s content. I’ll see if I can ask a friend who knows where to buy everything in Cuenca if she has a recommendation and I’ll post it here.

  3. For some people, just eating more fat works. It’s possible to eat once a day and be done with it. Late for a meal? No problem – just eat when you can, getting only slightly hungrier as time goes on, but not experiencing any uncontrollable appetites.

    The main thing to keep in mind about chocolate is that anything defined as chocolate is candy. Candy can be good as a treat, but you can’t really call it food. If interested in the background issues, take a look at these:

    “The chocolate science hype machine.” At https://www.vox.com/videos/2018/1/15/16885442/chocolate-science-health-flavanols

    And “Dark chocolate is now a health food. Here’s how that happened.” At https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/10/18/15995478/chocolate-health-benefits-heart-disease

  4. This is a beautiful idea… chocolate for breakfast! What we do in my home is drink pure cacao nightly mixed with hot water, a little honey, a little milk and coconut oil. This way, we get the benefits of everything and no sugar. In a pinch, we substitute the honey for panela and thereby get the minerals and vitamins from the “sweet part” of the drink. When we do buy chocolate bars, it is always 75% cacao… can’t get much addicted to that! It is pretty bitter… Thank you for a lovely article, I enjoyed it! 🙂

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