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Chocolate, it does the body good!


Dark or white! Fudge or in a rich, creamy ice cream! Kisses or chocolate chip cookies! Sundaes or death-by-chocolate cake! Everybody’s favorite!

Wait a minute, please, while I slap myself back into my professional fitness athlete/personal trainer reality!

Now chocoholics have all sorts of good – and not so good - news. Researchers at the Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at the University of Copenhagen – ah, dark Dutch chocolate! – report that eating dark chocolate may be an efficient way of controlling chocolate cravings because it is more filling than milk chocolate.

In the study, 16 healthy young men of normal weight who liked both dark and milk chocolate fasted for twelve hours and were then asked to consume 100 grams of chocolate during 15 minutes – in the first session dark chocolate and in the second session, 24 hours later, milk chocolate; two hours later they were asked to eat pizza until they felt comfortably full. Those who had eaten dark chocolate consumed 15 percent fewer calories of pizza when compared to those who ate the milk chocolate.

Of course, chocoholics don’t need researchers to tell us what we already know: Chocolate is the most widely and frequently craved food. But there is really little scientific evidence for the idea that chocolate contains mood-enhancing (psychoactive) ingredients that explain its special appeal. Serotonin, tryptophan, phenyl ethylamine, tyramine and cannabinoids – all potential mood altering chemicals – exist in much higher concentrations in other foods.

And milk chocolate and chocolate-covered confectionery – the most widely preferred forms of chocolate – contain a lower amount of cocoa solids, and therefore a lower concentration of potentially psychoactive compounds, than the less popular dark chocolate. It’s probable that any chocoholic can provide the most realistic explanation for chocolate’s appeal – and its effects on mood: its sugar and fat and the smell, the feel and taste of chocolate when it hits our noses and mouths.

At the same time, however, there’s great news about the “chocolate cure” for emotional stress: it may actually work, according to the Journal of Proteome Research of the American Chemical Society.

The study, published online, found that eating dark chocolate can reduce levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed.

While there is a growing body of scientific evidence that antioxidants and other beneficial substances in dark chocolate may reduce risk factors for heart disease and other physical conditions, researchers still haven’t identified exactly how chocolate might have its stress-busting effects. However, the researchers found that consuming 40 grams – approximately 1.4 ounces – every day for two weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy volunteers and reduce the levels of stress hormones.

(By the way, and just in case you are wondering, proteome research examines all aspects of system-oriented, global protein analysis and function, emphasizing the synergy between physical and life sciences, resulting in a multidisciplinary approach to the understanding of biological processes.)

Important news for the veteran chocoholic: Researchers at the University of Exeter (England) report that walking for just 15 minutes can reduce cravings. In their research, 25 regular chocoholics abstained for three days and were then asked to either complete a 15-minute brisk walk or rest. The exercisers reported lower cravings than after rest and, more importantly, the cravings were reduced not only during the walk but for at least ten minutes afterwards.

Researchers have known for years that brief bouts of physical activity reduced nicotine cravings but this is the first study to link exercise to reduced chocolate cravings. It may be that exercise effects brain chemicals that help to regulate mood and cravings and it could be good news for women who attempt to manage their cravings for sugary snacks and would like to lose weight – especially since most cravings are for fatty, sugary or salty (or any combination of these) foods.

An additional benefit of a walk-instead-of-binge regimen may be that accumulating 30 minutes of daily physical activity – two brisk 15-minute walks – may also serve to regulate energy intake, ultimately helping to lose weight and enhance cardiovascular health.

So, the take away ends up the same as always…enjoy things like chocolate in moderation to experience the benefits without igniting the negative effects.