- A small study of postmenopausal women suggests two ideal time windows to eat chocolate.
- The study suggests the ideal times could help burn fat, prevent hunger pangs, and improve sleep.
- The times are an hour after waking and an hour before bed.
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There are endless myths about eating chocolate — it’s fattening, it’s bad for your health, you shouldn’t eat too much of it. But the health benefits of eating small amounts of chocolate daily are supported by numerous studies.
Chocolate contains antioxidants thought to keep the heart and brain healthy, contribute to skin health, and combat fatigue and depression by improving the delivery of neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
One small study recently published in the FASEB Journal of 19 postmenopausal women found that two small windows of time are especially effective for eating chocolate and reaping the benefits.
According to the study, older women were more likely to benefit from consuming a small portion of chocolate (about 85 grams daily) one hour after waking or one hour before bed.
The 19 participants underwent a two-week controlled trial in which they ate 85 grams of milk chocolate every day. Given the limited size and duration of the study, its findings should be taken with a grain of salt.
Note that milk chocolate is richer in fat, sugar, and calories than dark chocolate.
Previous research such as that published in Obesity found that the more chocolate postmenopausal women ate each day, the more likely they were to increase their body-mass index as they aged.
The women in the FASEB’s study didn’t gain any weight, despite eating chocolate regularly. They also displayed clear benefits from the habit.
Eating 3.5 ounces in the morning, especially within an hour of waking, decreased hunger and cravings for sweet foods in general, largely because it lowered blood glucose levels.
The treat also led to increased fat burning and a boost in physical activity throughout the day.
It could also improve sleep quality
Eating chocolate in the evening, ideally about an hour before bedtime, increased melatonin signaling, the neurotransmitter associated with sleepiness.
Scheer said it could benefit the circadian system, which is integral in ensuring you get good sleep.
Our physiological mechanisms aren’t just affected by what we eat but also by when we eat.
Our sleep patterns aren’t the only aspect on which our circadian rhythms can have an effect. They also have a big influence on body weight and metabolism, Scheer added.
Eating at the “wrong” time, such as a heavy meal close to bedtime, can negatively affect metabolic processes and lead to increased fat storage.
In particular, it can change the way your gut microbes function, which can lead to troubled sleep, higher blood sugar, body-fat distribution, and daytime sleepiness.
In contrast, the small amount of chocolate in the study had the opposite effect.
Those who ate chocolate at night reported less erratic patterns in falling asleep and better overall sleep quality.
This is important, given that sleep disruption and difficulty falling asleep are common complaints during the menopause.
It’s likely that the study’s participants didn’t gain weight, despite the high amount of fat, sugar, and calories in the chocolate, because they were actually meeting their calorie needs, according to Shena Jaramillo, RD, a dietitian with Peace and Nutrition.
“Many people struggling to
actually consume very few calories and have been known to skip breakfast,” Jaramillo said. “Adding chocolate, or any food, allows the body to be adequately nourished and can also curb cravings for sweet foods. They’re less likely to binge later in the day as they won’t feel as restricted.”
That doesn’t mean loading up on chocolate bars throughout the day, though. Jaramillo said the focus should still be on moderation.
That said, if you do decide to have a sweet treat before breakfast, you may be giving yourself a little health boost.
“Chocolate is a great source of fat and a little bit of protein,” she said. “This can help people feel satiated with just a small snack.”