Chocolate for Weight Loss! And other too good to be true “studies”…

My husband sent me a very disheartening article last week called “I Fooled Millions into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.” by John Bohannon. I encourage you to read the article, but basically, the author, a journalist, was hired by two documentary filmmakers making a documentary on the junk-science diet industry, to purposely conduct a very flawed study “proving” that chocolate helped weight loss. And it worked….

“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily,” page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Please read the article hyperlinked above (especially if the excerpt from the article has intrigued you), but if you don’t, I can assure you that chocolate has NOT been PROVEN to accelerate weight loss (just like drinking wine isn’t the equivalent of doing cardio as one recent headline read). Most nutritional “studies” fall into the junk-science category.

As stated in the article by Mr. Bohannon:

So why should you care? People who are desperate for reliable information face a bewildering array of diet guidance—salt is bad, salt is good, protein is good, protein is bad, fat is bad, fat is good—that changes like the weather. But science will figure it out, right? Now that we’re calling obesity an epidemic, funding will flow to the best scientists and all of this noise will die down, leaving us with clear answers to the causes and treatments. Or maybe not. Even the well-funded, serious research into weight-loss science is confusing and inconclusive, laments Peter Attia, a surgeon who cofounded a nonprofit called the Nutrition Science Initiative. For example, the Women’s Health Initiative—one of the largest of its kind—yielded few clear insights about diet and health. “The results were just confusing,” says Attia. “They spent $1 billion and couldn’t even prove that a low-fat diet is better or worse.” Attia’s nonprofit is trying to raise $190 million to answer these fundamental questions. But it’s hard to focus attention on the science of obesity, he says. “There’s just so much noise.”

So what CAN you do?

Eat a well balanced diet (moderation, variety, and balance)…AKA the 90/10 plan. Exercise (meaning just move SOMEHOW, doesn’t really matter how) for at least 30 minutes a day. Eat WHOLE foods as often as you can. And track your calories if you want to lose weight. While it may be true that not all calories are equal, you will not lose weight if you consume 4,000 calories a day. It just won’t happen. Even if it is 4,000 calories of Omega-3 rich salmon, and raw, unsalted nuts, and greens-galore. You STILL must track those calories.

And if you want some chocolate because you LIKE it (not because you think you will lose weight), go for it! Just in moderation…

Eating small amounts of dark chocolate can be good for your health. Chocolate comes from a plant — the bean of the cacao tree — and, like certain teas, wine and many fruits and vegetables, it boasts a high concentration of antioxidant compounds called “flavonoids,” which can help prevent heart disease and protect against cancer. Processing cacao into chocolate diminishes its flavonoid content, and milk appears to inhibit its antioxidant effects. To get the maximum health benefit it’s best to consume minimally processed chocolate in pure, dark form without additives (like corn syrup, hydrogenated oil and artificial colors or flavors). Look for a cacao (or cocoa) content of 70 percent…

Check out of a few of these FIT-approved brands:

1. Equal Exchange

Equal Exchange gets clean-label dark chocolate just right. Each bar is built on four foundational ingredients: chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cane sugar and vanilla beans — every bit of it 100 percent organic and fair trade. The 71 percent Very Dark bar contains nothing else.

2. Alter Eco

Organic, fair-trade dark chocolate bars are part of a product line that includes quinoa, rice and sugar grown in impoverished regions throughout the world. Fair trade is a cornerstone of the Alter Eco’s mission, and it means that the company pays farmers enough to cover the cost of production of an item and make a profit. Their products are “carbon-neutral”; to achieve that, they plant trees in regions from which they source, and their packaging is compostable. Their Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate Bar is 85 percent cocoa and contains only four 100 percent organic, fair-trade-certified ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw cane sugar and vanilla beans. This flavor, along with some of the line’s other varieties, are also vegan.

3. Taza Chocolate

Taza’s trademark product is stone-ground, unrefined, minimally processed chocolate. Their Wicked Dark 95 percent Stone Ground Chocolate Bar contains only organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar. If you can handle the intensity of the high cacao content, then you’ll win out on the health front — this bar contains only two grams of sugar per 35-gram serving of chocolate, as compared to nine grams of sugar for a typical 70 percent dark bar and seven grams for a typical 85 percent bar. Taza takes ethical sourcing seriously: Their Direct Trade certification lets you know they buy directly from cacao farmers, and they “pay a premium above the fair-trade price for their cacao.”

And…if you want to stay local, check out these DC-Based Chocolate Shops. Just remember to ask for DARK chocolate with a cacao (or cocoa) content of at least 70 percent!

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