Marlo Mittler, M.S., R.D., is pediatric and adolescent dietitian at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
It almost sounds like an oxymoron when we hear the idea of a "Chocolate Diet." Or perhaps, what seems an impossible dream come true for most. For as long as I can remember, chocolate has been touted as a real no-no for anyone trying to fight the battle of the bulge, or just trying to be health conscious. So what is this sudden craze? Is there any truth to it?
Let's start with the basics. In recent years, there have been many studies that have revealed chocolate is, in fact, linked to many health benefits. Studies have found that regular consumption of chocolate has helped to lower blood pressure, reduce cardiovascular risk, improved cholesterol and even helped to regulate insulin — not to mention emerging research that reveals the flavanols in cocoa can improve brain health in aging adults. To date, these studies show promising reasons why one would want to include chocolate in a healthy lifestyle. And one must mention that research does specify it is only dark chocolate that provides these health benefits. [A Chocolate a Day? (Op-Ed)]
So it really doesn't come as a surprise to me that along the way someone hasn't decided to look at how chocolate actually affects our waistline . Hey, if we can find a way to work in a food that helps our brain, our hearts and our weight, all while making us feel rewarded by its sweet taste, why not? Thus came the creation of the Chocolate Diet.
The diet was developed after studies concluded that people who frequently ate chocolate have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than those who eat it less often. How is this even possible despite its sugar, fat and high caloric value?
In fact, while no one really understands, there is reason to believe that chocolate's antioxidants and chemical components result in an increase in the body's metabolism. Keep in mind, again, it is dark chocolate that gets the accolades, and it is the frequency of chocolate consumption not the quantity. By no means does the diet suggest loading up on this sweet treat, but to work in small amounts on a regular basis.
Keep in mind that there are many variations on the Chocolate Diet circulating these days. Everyone wants a piece of this new diet craze, as it has mass appeal to chocolate lovers everywhere. But if you read between the lines, all of the diets incorporate a calorie-controlled food plan, exercise and portion control while working in chocolates at specific times or in specific amounts.
Dark chocolate in small amounts can satisfy a taste bud, lift your senses, give you a small burst of energy and, in fact, curb your appetite. Paired with a balanced diet, it starts to sound sensible. And for most, just the idea of being able to take chocolate off the "no-no" list is enough for many dieters to dive into this craze.
Many of the Chocolate Diet plans create sample menus with low calorie meals and a chocolate snack midday. It might look like this:
- Breakfast: 1 cup of whole grain cereal, 1 cup of skim milk and 1 cup of berries
- Morning snack: 1 cup of popcorn or fruit
- Lunch: 3 slices of turkey over green salad, with carrots, cucumbers and tomato, low calorie dressing and ½ cup of applesauce.
- Afternoon snack: 200-300 calorie chocolate snack that can include a dark chocolate bar or dark chocolate shake.
- Dinner: 3 ounces of lean fish, 1 cup of vegetables and 1 cup of rice.
- Evening snack: 1 fruit
The bottom line is simple: the "Chocolate Diet" should be called "Chocolate In Your Diet," instead. In fact, with the health benefits that dark chocolate provides, physically and psychologically, and maybe even to your waist line, I say "Why not?!" I think that what at first sounded silly, and yes, like an oxymoron, might actually be the start of something fun and healthy after all. I think I might actually toss out my carrots and grab a square of dark chocolate for my afternoon snack.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.