Typically, it sort of comes as a given that to get a leaner body, we have to cut things out of our diet, right.
Higher calorie, lower nutrient foods that aren’t friendly to fat loss. All sorts of non healthy junk: ice cream, fries, cookies, chocolate.
WAIT! Hold up a second there on that last one.
Chocolate is not unhealthy per se, and I would be very reluctant to group it together with junk food or rule it out from a healthy lifestyle and fat loss plan. Whilst probably not qualifying as a general ‘diet’ food, chocolate in and of itself is very healthy and, when included in your diet correctly can even help lose fat and attain a better physique.
Firstly, something important that needs to be said:
A huge reason why people fail in getting leaner, fitter and end up cheating on their diet is the constant state of deprivation they put themselves in.
If you never allow yourself any hint of the foods you miss and enjoy eating on occasion, you’re bound to fall off the wagon at some point down the road and will probably enter into a splurge at a barbecue/party/holiday which may be hard to recover from… Either that or you’ll continue being miserable, and what kind of an existence is that?
That’s a pretty bleak picture, don’t you think. But one that can be avoided altogether.
Many people, especially women, crave a bit of chocolate now and again. This isn’t necessarily the worst thing by a long shot.
The fact of the matter is the health benefits of cocoa are extensive – and despite the controversy, you would be hard pressed to find an expert who fundamentally disagrees with this.
Here are just some of the health benefits of chocolate:
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased insulin sensitivity – thus an improved tolerance to carbohydrates.
- High antioxidant activity of the flavonoids.
- Positive effect on mood
- Appetite control
- Improved blood flow – increased vasodilation of blood vessels
- Improved cholesterol levels
Dark chocolate is a brilliant source of healthy fats, crucial for maintaining a healthy hormone balance and therefore for fat loss and lean muscle.
BUT IS THERE A CATCH? Of course!
Up to this point, my use of the word ‘chocolate’ has covered ONLY DARK CHOCOLATE – leaving the inflammatory, unhealthy milk and white chocolates out in the cold to rot (as they should)!
This is where our main problem lies. White and milk chocolates are just not the same thing as true dark chocolate. In terms of nutritional value, health benefits and what they do for your body-fat levels, the two are like night and day.
For example, whilst dark chocolate has been shown to have a positive effect on blood pressure, the huge negative effect of sugar far outweighs the any subtle benefit from the polyphenols in cocoa.
The choice between the two is simply a choice between diabetes and insulin health, high blood pressure and optimal cholesterol levels … Essentially – a choice between high body fat and low body fat.
The two primary reasons for this are the MILK and SUGAR content that account as the majority of the ingredients in your average chocolate bar, many products containing as little as 30% cocoa.
Milk largely negates the benefit, hindering the absorption of important antioxidants present, particularly a particularly healthy compound: epicatechin. To add fuel to the fire, this problem is worsened by the fact that the addition of sugar essentially leaves us with a concoction of crap, nothing of which I believe should even dignify with the undeserved title ‘chocolate’.
Things to be aware of:
- When looking for chocolate, the higher the cocoa content, the better.
- When looking for chocolate, the lower the content of milk, sugar (and other processed junk), the better.
- ‘Normal’ chocolate that people typically buy in the average shop or confectionary area of your local supermarket generally has a monumentally high level of added sugar and milk, with a low cocoa content
- Even some dark chocolates are only 50% cocoa. In any such bar of chocolate, probably marketed as healthy, half of the ingredients are utterly useless to our bodies – empty calories that cause fat storage, inflammation and muscle catabolism (breakdown).
- Anything less than 70% cocoa mass – you’re going to want to avoid. If possible, shoot for an 80% + product.
Most grocery stores/supermarkets sell real chocolate. In the UK, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S all seem to have a selection, but if you’re finding it hard to find any decent chocolate, just pop down to your local whole foods shop.
You’ve got numerous brands to choose from. My favourite, however, has to be Green and Black’s 85% Dark Chocolate. Absolutely gorgeous.
I usually have a square or two with my pre-workout meal (a strategic time to eat it due to the fact dark chocolate has been down to increase blood flow) or later in the evening after dinner/before bed.
Don’t be scared to do this.
You will not get fatter.
The addition of these healthy fats, such as oleic and stearic acid, to your diet will actually help you get leaner provided you’re training and general lifestyle are intact. I can certainly vouch for this.
As with anything, however, moderation is key.
So don’t now go off and devour a whole bar of 85% Green and Black’s and go around telling everyone ‘A personal trainer called Jack Galloway told me I could do this and still lose weight’.
Firstly, that looks bad on me.
And secondly, that makes you look bad!
Remember that even a healthy bar of dark chocolate still contains over 50 grams of fat and 600 calories per 100 grams of chocolate (which really isn’t that much when you think of the quantities of food we eat in a given meal).
CAUTION: if you’re the kind of person who finds self-control hard when eating small portions of high calorie foods e.g. nuts / chocolate, I would advise against exposing yourself to the dark chocolate temptation too often – or else you’re just looking for trouble.
But if, like myself, you are a chocolate lover and want to find a way to integrate it into your diet whilst keeping a low percentage of body-fat, or whilst losing fat, here are a couple of cool things you may want to try something like adding a tbsp of cocoa powder to one of your protein shakes.
- 1 scoop chocolate whey protein
- 1-2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 cup of blueberries / 1 small banana
- 1 cup of coconut milk
- 4-5 ice cubes
Here is something else you could do:
Heat a plate. When hot, place a small amount of dark chocolate on the plate and wait for it to melt. Grab a cup of strawberries to dip into the melted chocolate. And there you have it. A really decadent and really healthy snack, full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Great to have as a desert after a higher protein, lower carb/fat main meal.
Break a piece of dark chocolate from a bar. Eat it.
Warning: This one takes a lot of preparation time, so only do it on a day you have time to clear up!