Why Experts Aren’t Sweet on Study Claiming Chocolate May Help Burn Fat

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According to a new study, eating milk chocolate first thing in the morning may have several health benefits, but nutritionists say these findings may not be as sweet as they seem. Foto Duets/Getty Images
  • A small study found that eating 100 grams of milk chocolate, either within 1 hour of waking or within 1 hour of going to bed, may actually aid fat burning and reduce blood sugar.
  • Researchers also found that the chocolate helps regulate sleep and suppresses appetite.
  • Though the study has gotten a lot of attention, nutritionists caution against changing your daily diet to include such a high-calorie, high-sugar serving of chocolate, as it may contribute to diet-related chronic diseases over time.

A small study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in collaboration with investigators at the University of Murcia in Spain suggests that eating chocolate for breakfast may, at least for some, have some unexpected benefits.

In fact, they found that a high intake of milk chocolate in the morning might actually aid fat burning and reduce blood sugar.

They also found that, depending on the timing of consumption, the chocolate could affect hunger and appetite, gut bacteria, sleep, and more.

In addition, eating chocolate at night might change metabolism the following morning.

The randomized, controlled crossover trial involved 19 postmenopausal women.

Each person ate 100 grams of milk chocolate, either within 1 hour of waking or within 1 hour of going to bed.

The research team then compared the women who did not eat chocolate for measurable effects, such as weight gain.

After 14 days of eating chocolate, the women had not gained any weight.

Also, even though they were allowed to eat freely other than having the required amount of chocolate, the women spontaneously reduced the number of calories they were eating to partially compensate for the chocolate calories.

Those who ate chocolate in the morning reduced their intake by about 300 kcal/day, while those who ate it in the evening reduced their intake by about 150 kcal/day.

This was compared to the 542 kcal/day that they obtained from eating the chocolate.

Eating chocolate was also found to decrease hunger and desire for sweets.

The researchers further found signs of increased fat burning and lower blood sugar in the women who ate chocolate in the morning.

Among those who ate it in the evening, they found signs that it might alter metabolism the following day.

Regarding the composition of gut bacteria, it was found that evening and morning consumption resulted in a different profile and function.

Finally, when women ate chocolate in the evening, they had more regularity in the amount of time it took them to fall asleep.

While it might sound as if eating chocolate for breakfast is a good idea, Mary-Jon Ludy, PhD, chair of the Department of Public & Allied Health and associate professor, Food & Nutrition at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, says it’s a bit early to begin recommending a morning chocolate bar.

She said an important caveat in this study is that only a small group of healthy women were studied over a short period of time.

Also, she noted that they consumed a third of their daily caloric needs from a single high-fat, high-sugar food.

“With more than half of U.S. adults managing at least one diet-related chronic disease,” she said, “more evidence is needed prior to endorsing a milk chocolate breakfast for the general population.”

Colleen Tewksbury, PhD, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agreed.

“Milk chocolate is a higher-calorie, higher-sugar, higher-fat food. Having small amounts and maintaining a healthy intake can be done, but many people struggle to find this balance without conscious effort,” she said.

While Ludy is not in a hurry to recommend milk chocolate based on this study, she did say that chocolate can have certain health benefits. For example, it contains flavonoids, which help reduce blood pressure, decrease inflammation, and improve insulin sensitivity. It also contains theobromine, which helps improve good cholesterol levels and can support mood by improving alertness.

However, if you are going to consume chocolate, research suggests that dark chocolate is better for you. It contains more healthful compounds such as flavonoids and theobromine but lower amounts of sugar than milk chocolate.

She suggests looking for darker chocolates with a higher percentage of cacao and consuming it in moderation as a part of an overall nutritious diet.

While there are healthier ways to consume chocolate than eating milk chocolate, Tewksbury said, “When talking about reducing the risks of developing heart disease and diabetes, it’s not one food or change that we would expect to make a huge difference — it’s a lot of small ones.”

She suggests maintaining a moderate weight, exercising 30 minutes 5 times a week, and eating a variety of nutritious foods, including:

  • whole grains
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • lean proteins
  • heart-healthy fats
  • fruits
  • vegetables

Ludy said that if you want to add chocolate to your day, know it is a higher-calorie food, so it’s important to consider setting portion and frequency boundaries.

“More is not always better in nutrition,” she said.

So, for example, one person might choose to have a small, fun-sized chocolate bar once daily. Another might choose to add chocolate to a recipe a few times a week.

Ludy said the best place to start deciding how to incorporate chocolate into an overall wholesome diet is to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist. They can help you figure out what works best for you and your health goals.