Now that I have the attention of every chocolate lover—and you know who you are!—it’s time to get serious. Is it possible to eat what may be the most loved food in the world and effectively lose weight and keep it off? According to Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology and author of The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat, the answer begins in the gut.
That’s where you typically host about 4 pounds of microbes on a regular basis, and these are 4 pounds you don’t want to lose, because they are involved in constant efforts to keep your physical and mental health on track. A balance between the beneficial and disease-causing bacteria and other microbes in your gut is critical for maintaining optimal function of your immune system.
You may be wondering where chocolate enters this picture, and we are getting there. Spector contends that a big reason why people fail to lose weight and keep it off is because they ignore the role of the microbes in the gut, which also play a significant role in how much you weigh.
That’s because not all calories are alike. In fact, the calories from different types of food have differing impacts on weight because they vary in how they affect the microbes in the gut. Spector explains that “Our narrow, blinkered view of nutrition and weight as a simple energy-in and energy-out phenomenon and our failure to account for our microbes have been the main reasons for the miserable failure of diets and nutritional advice.”
Therefore, when you eliminate certain food groups or types from your menu, which is common in fad diets, you actually promote weight gain because you have done away with the diversity the gut needs to maintain a healthy balance of microbes. The answer is to consume a variety of foods (as natural as possible, since processed foods disrupt the gut environment) that support and promote the continuance of beneficial bacteria.
Chocolate (dark chocolate, with more than 60% cocoa solids and no sugar) is one of those foods because it contains lots of polyphenols in the form of flavonoids whose task is to nourish the bacteria in the gut and assist in their reproduction process (as well as fight inflammation). In addition to chocolate, other items that support this effort are coffee, wine, and unpasteurized cheeses.
But before you stock up on all of these items and decide you are going to change your diet forever, remember what Spector said about eliminating food groups. Chocolate, cheese, coffee, and wine can be part of your weight loss efforts, but not to the exclusion of other foods.
Spector and his colleagues based their conclusions regarding chocolate on the results of a study in which the diets of 2,000 sets of twins were evaluated. Twins who had the highest levels of flavonoids in their bloodstream from ingesting chocolate and wine also had lower body weight, lower blood pressure, lower risk of diabetes, healthier arteries, and stronger bones than those who had the lowest levels of these polyphenols from these two items.
Losing weight is not just about reducing calories and exercising; factors such as genetics, hormones, sleep, environmental toxins, and stress, among others, are important as well. If you want to lose weight, one thing that will help is to eat a diverse diet so the population of microbes in your gut is also varied, which in turn can help you drop excess pounds and live a healthier life. And yes, that diet can include dark chocolate, in moderate amounts, as well as a wide variety of foods that are natural or only mildly processed.