Liana Werner-Gray is the founder and owner of The Earth Diet, author of diet-related books and an advocate for natural healing using a healthy diet and lifestyle. Check out her books: Cancer-Free with Food, Anxiety-Free with Food, The Earth Diet, and 10-Minute Recipes. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram @lianawernergray.
Are you a big chocolate lover but fear eating it due to the possibility of weight gain? Here’s some good news--you don’t need to worry about gaining weight with chocolate! In fact eating it can actually help you control your weight!
Healthy or Not?
Unfortunately, most people think chocolate is unhealthy because they equate it with sweets and believe sweets are bad for us. As a result, they try to suppress their cravings for chocolate--which then can result in overeating or binging! In reality, the health issues associated with chocolate come from the white sugar, poor-quality dairy, and soy lecithin used to make most poor-quality chocolate.
That type of chocolate will do damage, and, in fact, can increase our anxiety and lead to weight gain. High-quality chocolate, however, can heal us, restore us, and can help us to lose weight. A 2012 study concluded that frequent chocolate consumption is actually associated with a lower body mass index (BMI).
Trust your gut instincts to figure out if chocolate is the right healing food for you. Keep track of how you feel right after eating it, then an hour later, and even up through the next day. By tracking how it makes you feel you will be able to discern if chocolate is contributing positively to your daily diet.
Cacao as a Superfood
Cacao, which is the raw ingredient used to make chocolate, is actually a powerful superfood with lots of nutrition. It is remarkably high in magnesium—40 times more than blueberries! It also is an excellent source of good, healthy fats.
Cacao is one of the richest sources of flavanol antioxidants on earth! Flavonoid-rich chocolate can enhance the endogenous antioxidant activities of the body, resulting in reduced oxidative damage. Less oxidation in your body means less inflammation, better health and slower aging.
Balancing the gut is a strategy for improving the balance of neurotransmitters and improving vitamin absorption. One study of the effects of cacao on gut health and metabolism found it to be very helpful. The study provides strong evidence that daily consumption of 40 grams of dark chocolate over a period of two weeks is sufficient to improve gut health.
In the study, dark chocolate reduced the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamine, and it partially normalized stress-related differences in energy metabolism. This boost in gut health is an important helper for weight loss and maintenance.
Your brain loves chocolate! Cacao has neuroprotective effects and its influence on cognitive performance can be attributed to its widespread stimulation of blood flow to the brain. Its antioxidant molecules, mainly flavonoids like epicatechin (think dark chocolate and green tea), are responsible for these brain-protecting effects.
It Makes Us Happy and Relaxed
Even just the smell of chocolate can activate feel-good brain chemicals and influence brain activity in a positive manner! Due to the mood-boosting properties of cacao, we can enjoy it every day to promote a healthy lifestyle, keep us active and help us to maintain a healthy weight.
Is anything better than a rich, chocolatey treat when you’re feeling stressed? In fact, there have been countless studies on cacao—as well as cocoa and dark chocolate—proving that it helps to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and inflammation. The flavonoids in chocolate induce positive moods.
In one study, reductions in self-reported anxiety and other undesirable emotional and energetic states were recorded as a function of having eaten chocolate just after consumption and up to one hour later!
Cacao polyphenols were shown to reduce stress in the highly stressed, as well as in “normal healthy” individuals, especially women. Scientific evidence shows that the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis response during stressful events differs markedly between men and women. There is an increased sensitivity of the adrenal cortex in women as compared to men.
As you may be aware, the adrenal glands produce hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight response throughout the sympathetic nervous system. They make us anxious so that we can handle danger. Where this goes awry for too many of us and becomes uncomfortable is when this response is triggered when no danger is present, or if we cannot settle down again once the danger has passed.
It’s beneficial to eat dark chocolate on days when you know you are going to be under stress, such as the day of an exam at school or a presentation or a long workday at the office—or even for huge life events like weddings.
How Does Chocolate Help Us Lose Weight?
When we are in a positive mood we are more likely to exercise, eat healthy foods, and not binge on junk food. Less stress eating, less cravings and less inflammation all add up to better weight maintenance.
When we combine the stress-reducing, mood-boosting, gut-healing nutrition into a tasty, satisfying treat like dark chocolate, we get a major helper in our quest to maintain a healthy weight. Of course, you must consume only good-quality dark chocolate to get the full health benefits.
Check out my delicious recipe for No-Bake Chocolate Brownies to keep you slim, satisfied and feeling good!