I love my dark chocolate, and while I'm careful with heavily processed candy bars or ice cream, just about every day I do indeed include a handful of organic cacao nibs for some extra crunch in my morning kale smoothie, a chunk (or two) of 85-percent-plus dark chocolate with my nightly glass of red wine, and some of the other chocolate sources I discuss in my podcast episode "What Kind Of Chocolate Is Good For You."
Believe it or not, chocolate not only has health benefits, but can actually help you get a better body and get fit, and in this article, you're going to discover how you can use chocolate to help you with cravings for sweet things and also to help you enhance your cardiovascular fitness.
Chocolate For Cravings
Perhaps chocolate is a favorite snack of scientific researchers, or perhaps we human beings have some kind of natural infatuation with this tasty treat, but it seems that every day there is some news report or new study about the amazing things that chocolate, cocoa butter or cocoa powder can do. From increasing mitochondrial biogenesis (the formation of new tiny powerhouses in your cell) and energy production to enhancing blood flow and functioning of cardiac tissue, the benefits of chocolate (especially dark chocolate) simply don't seem to end.
I hope you're sitting down, because now a recent study has actually shown some means by which chocolate may actually lead to fat loss -- particularly by suppressing your appetite, increased meal satiety, and decreasing cravings for sweet things in general.
The researchers in this study compared the effects of milk chocolate and dark chocolate on appetite and energy intake at an ad libitum test meal, which means that on two separate days, participants were given a 100-gram serving of either milk or dark chocolate and then a couple of hours later were allowed to sit down for lunch to eat as much as they wanted of a ham-and-cheese pizza (I want to know where you can go to sign up for a study like this!). The pizzas were cut in different sizes to make it difficult for the participants to compare the number of slices of pizza they ate on the two test days.
Participants were then weighed and recorded their baseline appetites before eating the 100 grams of the chocolate. They were also asked how much they liked the chocolate immediately after eating it, and their appetite sensations were recorded every 30 minutes for five hours, including before, during and after the pizza lunch. "Palatability ratings," or how good that pizza tasted, were also assessed immediately after lunch.
So what were the findings? There was no difference in how much the participants enjoyed the two types of chocolate. But they felt significantly more satiated, were less hungry and had significantly decreased pizza consumption after consumption of the dark chocolate compared to after the milk chocolate. Dark chocolate was actually associated with 17 percent lower pizza consumption when compared to the ingestion of milk chocolate!
In addition, the researchers write that, "The ratings of the desire to eat something sweet were significantly lower throughout the entire test day after consumption of the dark chocolate compared with the milk chocolate" and concluded that "...the present results suggest that dark chocolate promotes satiety, lowers the desire to eat something sweet and suppresses energy intake compared with milk chocolate, although further research is needed to validate these results."
So next time you know you're going to eat a big and potentially unhealthy meal, try eating about 100 grams of dark chocolate a couple hours prior!
Chocolate For Cardio
But the benefits of chocolate don't stop with controlling cravings. Research has also found that a single dose of flavan-3-ols, one of the primary polyphenol compounds found in cocoa butter and cocoa powder, increases both systemic circulation and microcirculation -- two important determinants of cardiovascular fitness, physical performance (particularly for endurance) and health. Perhaps this may also be why the practice of eating chocolate backstage to make your veins "pop out" and make you look better on stage was a common practice back when I was a bodybuilder.
Now I'll admit that humans aren't exactly big rats, but in the most recent study on the polyphenols in chocolate, the researchers used 32 rodents who were fed a basic diet for 4 days, then assigned to 2 groups, each of which were treated with distilled water or flavan-3-ols (a form of polyphenols) dissolved in distilled water. Amazingly, every positive health aspect of blood circulation was increased significantly in the group ingesting flavan-3-ols, and in particular, nitric oxide production to make blood vessels large, blood flow and red blood cell velocity were especially increased. Markers of increased metabolic rate, such as blood pressure and heart rate, were also slightly elevated in the polyphenol consuming group (but -- just like the increase in blood pressure and heart rate from exercise -- this is not a bad thing when it happens in moderation).
So it turns out that the polyphenols in chocolate can make your blood vessels work more efficiently, and if you use it before exercise, could actually decrease the burden to your cardiovascular system and enhance performance, especially when you're pushing yourself hard to distribute lots of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles, since blood vessels are how your body distributes these compounds to muscles.
Next time you're exercising, try tossing a couple spoonfuls of cocoa butter into a protein shake before exercise, mixing some cocoa powder into coconut milk (this tastes fantastic whipped and frozen) or just tossing back a handful of dark chocolate chunks or cacao nibs. Delicious!