Can Chocolate Help You Lose Weight?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Food and Health, Issues, Obesity

A Candy a Day Keeps The Weight Away?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

chocolateSometimes you come across news that just seems too good to be true. The recent headlines saying that you can lose weight just by eating chocolate are a perfect example. Your first reaction when you heard that was probably “Sure, when pigs fly!”

But, it’s such an enticing idea – one might even say a deliciously enticing idea. And, in today’s world enticing ideas like this quickly gain a life of their own. Two popular books have been written on the subject. Chocolate diet plans are springing up right and left. A quick scan of the internet even revealed a web site saying that by investing a mere $1,250 in a training course you could become a “Certified Chocolate Weight Loss Coach” earning $50,000/year.

If you like chocolate as much as most people you are probably wondering could it just possibly be true?

Can Eating Chocolate Help You Lose Weight?

The idea that chocolate could help you lose weight does have some support. There are actually three published clinical studies suggesting that chocolate consumption is associated with lower weight (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62: 247-253, 2008; Nutrition Research, 31: 122-130, 2011; Archives of Internal Medicine, 172: 519-521, 2012).

While that sounds pretty impressive, they were all cross-sectional studies. That means they looked at a cross section of the population and compared chocolate intake with BMI (a measure of obesity). Cross sectional studies have a couple of very important limitations:

1)    Cross sectional studies merely measure associations. They don’t prove cause and effect. Was it the chocolate that caused the lower weight, or was it something else that those populations were doing? We don’t really know.

2)    Cross sectional studies don’t tell us why an association occurs. In many ways this is the old chicken and egg conundrum. Which comes first? In this case the question is whether the people in the studies became obese because they ate less chocolate – or did they eat less chocolate because they were obese and were trying to control their calories? Again, we have no way of knowing.

If Pigs Could Only Fly

If Pigs Could FlyChocolate is relatively rich in fat and high in calories. It’s not your typical diet food. On the surface it seems fairly implausible that eating chocolate could actually help you lose weight.

Scientists love to poke holes in implausible hypotheses, so it is no surprise that a recent study (PLOS ONE, 8(8) e70271) has poked some huge holes in the “chocolate causes weight loss” hypothesis.

This study analyzed data from over 12,000 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Community (ARIC) Study. This was also a cross sectional study, but it was a prospective cross sectional study (That’s just a fancy scientific term which means that the study followed a cross section of the population over time, rather than just asking what that population group looked like at a single time point).

The authors of the study assessed frequency of chocolate intake and weight for each individual in the study at two separate time points 6 years apart. The results were very interesting:

  • When they looked at a cross section of the population at either time point, their results were the same as the previous three studies – namely those who consumed the most chocolate weighed less. So the data are pretty consistent. Overweight people consume less chocolate. But, that still doesn’t tell us why they consume less chocolate.
  • However, when they followed the individuals in the study over 6 years, those who consumed the most chocolate gained the most weight. The chocolate eaters were skinnier than the non-chocolate eaters at the beginning of the study, but they gained more weight as the study progressed. And, the more chocolate they consumed the more weight they gained over the next 6 years. [No surprise here. Calories still count.]
  • When they specifically looked at the population who had developed an obesity related illness between the first and second time point, they found that by the end of the study those participants had:

– Decreased chocolate intake by 37%

– Decreased fat intake by 4.5%

– Increased fruit intake by 20%

– Increased vegetable intake by 17%

  • In short, this study is more consistent with the “obesity causes reduced chocolate intake” model than the “reduced chocolate intake causes obesity” model. Simply put, if you are trying to lose weight, sweets like chocolate are probably among the first things to go.

Of course, even prospective cross sectional studies have their limitations. Double blind, placebo controlled studies are clearly needed to resolve this question. The only published study of this type has reported a slight weight gain associated 25 g/day of dark chocolate, but the study was too small and too short in duration to draw firm conclusions.

In summary, more studies are needed, but the current evidence does not support the “miracle diet food” claims for chocolate.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Pigs still haven’t learned how to fly. As enticing as it may sound, the weight of current evidence does not support the claims that chocolate is a miracle diet food or that eating chocolate every day is a sensible strategy for losing weight.

2)    On the other hand, dark chocolate is probably one of the healthier dessert foods. There is no reason not to enjoy an occasional bite of chocolate as part of a healthy, calorie-controlled diet.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Josephine Dye

    |

    This was very in-lighting. enjoy your news letter.

    Reply

  • Julie Donnelly

    |

    I LOVE chocolate and fortunately Shaklee has the chocolate peanut butter bars so I can get my “fix” and still feel okay about it.

    Reply

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Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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