Good news for chocoholics everywhere: You can eat chocolate and still lose weight. Dark chocolate is lower in sugar than milk chocolate — the darker the better. When you eat a small amount in place of other higher-calorie sweets, you can curb your sweet tooth and cut calories at the same time.
Chocolate Bar Basics
Not all chocolate is created equal when it comes to weight loss and overall health benefits. Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, a naturally bitter bean that is roasted, fermented and ground to form a paste, which is then made into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. These ingredients are added in varying amounts to chocolate to create different chocolate confections.
White chocolate has the lowest cacao content. It is mostly milk and sugar with a small amount of cocoa butter. Milk chocolate is also made of milk and sugar, but it has a slightly higher cocoa content. According to Wockenfuss Candies, milk chocolate must contain at least 12 percent milk and at least 10 percent cocoa. Dark chocolate has the highest cocoa content — between 18 and 99 percent.
Choose Chocolate Wisely
Choosing a chocolate that jives with weight loss can be confusing. Gram for gram, plain milk chocolate is often lower in calories than dark chocolate. Since the main goal of a weight loss plan is to lower your calorie intake below your calorie expenditure, it would make more sense to choose milk chocolate, right? Wrong.
Dark chocolate is only marginally higher in calories. According to the USDA, one ounce of milk chocolate has 138 calories and one ounce of dark chocolate containing 70 to 85 percent cacao solids has 170 calories. For those extra 32 calories, you get a lot more nutritional bang for your buck. Cocoa beans are nutritional powerhouses, rich in iron, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium and copper, reports Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
A 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate has 3.4 grams of iron, a mineral that is crucial for the production of healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. That one serving provides 43 percent of the iron a man needs each day and 19 percent of the daily recommended amount for a woman, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Dark chocolate is also lower in sugar than milk chocolate. One ounce has 6.8 grams of sugar, compared to 15.8 grams in one ounce of milk chocolate. Staying away from sugar is key to successful weight loss.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that the body processes differently than complex carbohydrates. It is broken down quickly, causing a sharp rise in blood sugar and insulin. According to Mark Hyman, MD, director of the Center for Functional Medicine, this drives energy into fat cells and leads to increased fat storage, particularly in the abdominal area. Sugar also can cause increased cravings for more sugar, hunger and overeating.
Where milk chocolate has a higher sugar content, dark chocolate has a higher fiber content. Fiber is the "anti-sugar." Your body can't digest it and it doesn't offer any nutrients, but it helps to slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream and dampen its effects on blood sugar. It also delays stomach emptying, which can help you feel full for longer after you eat it.
Cocoa contains plant chemicals called flavanols that may help prevent cell damage and disease. Dark chocolate has a flavanol content two to three times higher than that of milk chocolate, according to Harvard. The darker the chocolate, the higher its flavanol content.
Your Chocolate Strategy
It's important to choose dark chocolate that doesn't have a lot of added sugar from other ingredients, such as toffee. Less is more, in this case. Harvard also suggests choosing a bar with at least 70 percent cocoa solids for the biggest nutrition benefits.
Dark chocolate has a richer flavor and you don't need to eat a lot of it to feel satisfied. One serving is one ounce of chocolate, which is about one to three squares, depending on the bar.
The trick is to eat it mindfully. Instead of scarfing down a chocolate bar while you're racing home from work, wait until you have a quiet moment to indulge. Break off a square and take a small bite. Before chewing, hold the chocolate on your tongue and savor the flavor and textures. Begin to chew, staying aware of the textures, flavors and aromas. When you have swallowed your bite, pause to enjoy the lingering flavor before taking your next bite.
Mindfulness is a good technique to use when eating any food, not just chocolate. Whether it's a souffle or a salad, slowing down and taking time to savor each bite can help you enjoy your food more and potentially consume less.
- Wockenfuss Candies: "The Difference Between Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Dark Chocolate"
- USDA: "45254825, Hershey's, Milk Chocolate, Upc"
- USDA: "19904, Chocolate, Dark, 70-85% Cacao Solids"
- NIH: "Iron"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Sugar or Fat: What’s Worse for Your Waistline?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"