The Power of Chocolate
Here are some tips and tricks to help you include this sweet treat in your diet, without the guilt and regret.
By Janice Baker, MBA, RDN, CDE, CNSC, BC-ADM
Often patients tell me “I can’t have chocolate in my house; I’ll just eat it all in one sitting”, or they’re a chocoholic and have a “terrible” sweet tooth.
Does this get in the way of a healthful lifestyle and nutritious food choices that support a healthy body? Probably not, despite the fear-mongering and common diet/weight loss messages.
Remember, food is not bad or good. It’s the context of how it is used (or abused) that makes a difference.
Some nutrition facts about one of our favorite foods: chocolate is made from cocoa, a plant. It’s a rich source of health-protective Phyto (plant) nutrients, as we get in eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Dark chocolate is the richest source of phytonutrients. But with a slightly bitter taste, many prefer the sweeter milk chocolate. Milk chocolate is a bit higher in fat and sugar, however, in the context of an overall healthful diet, we need to consider the joy of savoring the food flavors we prefer vs. eating dark chocolate because it is “healthier.” In the quantities consumed within the context of a healthful, normalized eating pattern, the difference overall between dark and milk chocolate is minimal.
Examples of phytonutrients in cocoa are flavonoids (also found in tea, apples, and onions). These flavonoids reduce the risk of heart disease in people who regularly consume chocolate as part of a healthful diet pattern.
If you truly enjoy chocolate, is there a problem with having it every day? Most likely, no! Remember, deprivation often creates urges to binge eat when given the chance. I often hear about “cheat days”, “uncontrolled eating at night”, and “emotional eating”, none of which involve apples or broccoli!
You may consider if enjoying a bit of chocolate that you really like every day reduces the desire to devour several candy bars at once? (Personal story – my husband has a small portion of chocolate chips every night after dinner, and savors them thoroughly, while my oldest son just doesn’t like chocolate at all; he used to pick out the chocolate chips from cookies when he was younger and throw them in the trash).
If you have been feeling powerless over chocolate (or any other sweets for that matter), consider experimenting with eating it more often in small portions, and even putting them on your breakfast, lunch, or dinner plate. Restriction often leads to overcompensation. Consider if pears have the same type of powerful effect as chocolate/sweets. We usually don’t assign an emotion/power to these foods and eat them when we want, without feeling shame or guilt.
Denial and deprivation can lead to overeating in children, as well as in adults. Letting your kids enjoy and self-regulate their intake of candy is the better path than forbidding them to eat it.
We are born with a taste for sweets; this is biology and evolutionary adaptation. When hunger strikes we often crave quick energy, sugar. Management of sugar cravings is handled by eating enough quality-foods earlier and throughout the day.
Some of my patients who have the most difficulty controlling their intake of sweets often skip breakfast and other meals. This habit, along with stress, poor sleep patterns, and overall nutrition deprivation, fuels the cycle of restriction/binging. This is often mistaken for “sugar addiction” or being a “chocoholic.”
Fortunately, there are ways to manage excessive hunger and cravings:
- Eating a healthful breakfast and lunch. Increasing protein content of both of these earlier in the day meals often helps both maintain muscle tissue – which is also important in overall metabolism, as well as stabilizing appetite. I do recommend a “solid food” breakfast, instead of liquids (such as smoothies), as there are physiological benefits to eating solids and chewing your own foods vs. having a blender doing this for you. An example would be whole grain toast, eggs, and fruit, peanut butter on toast with fruit, old-fashioned oatmeal with nuts and fruit, Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, topped with nuts and berries. My husband makes bean and cheese quesadillas for breakfast with hot sauce.
- Plan sweets into a healthful day of eating. This planning/accounting for enjoyable “fun foods” can actually help take the “power” out of these foods, and thus the shame, guilt, and
I often top my breakfast Greek yogurt (which is quite high in protein) with a sprinkle of chocolate chips along with nuts and berries and this keeps me quite satisfied for several hours. There is no law – especially no law of science – that says we can’t enjoy chocolate at breakfast time.
Reframing how we think about foods – all foods, not just chocolate or sweets – is important in normalizing eating habits and minimizing the anxiety, stress, and restrictions we put on ourselves. If we are able to successfully change the way we think about food, we can spend more of our time in life having fun and enjoying the pleasures of good food without shame and guilt. To learn more about healthful meal planning for your individual needs, meet with a registered dietitian/nutritionist for science and evidence-based nutrition guidance.
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.
DAR -0043 RevA 06/2019