“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” — Charles M. Schultz
It’s true. A diet with a little bit of chocolate is good for you. It can even promote weight loss. How can this be you may ask? Theobromine, a bitter alkaloid found in cocoa, works as a mild stimulant and diuretic. These, combined with a healthy diet and exercise plan, can help stimulate weight loss and give you more energy.
Not all chocolate is made the same. Unprocessed cocoa beans contain up to 1200 mg of theobromine per ounce. But the refining and processing of chocolate varies this level drastically. High quality, dark chocolate still retains a high level of theobromine, while milk chocolate contains no theobromine at all. There is also trace levels of this alkaloid found in coffee, tea, and kola nuts.
Theobromine is similar to caffeine in its chemical makeup and how it reacts in the body. It does not stimulate the central nervous system as intensely as caffeine, so does not have the same feeling of energy one gets when drinking coffee, but it also doesn’t produce the caffeine withdrawals many coffee drinkers suffer.
It is used as a muscle relaxer and helps open up artery passages in people with high blood pressure. It also increases blood flow to the heart and other vital organs. By having relaxed muscles and arteries, your body is better oxygenated. This helps your muscles to work at their premium when undergoing an intense workout. It also helps prevent muscle damage, as relaxed muscles are less likely to tighten and strain. Having theobromine in your system also minimizes lactic acid gathering in your muscles. A build-up of lactic acid is what makes you feel exhaustion during and after exercise. So by including dark chocolate in your diet, you will be able to work out for longer.
Theobromine is also a diuretic agent. It increases the amount of fluid that the body needs to expel (the amount you need to pee). This in turn gets rid of excess toxin build up in the body and also lessens the appearance of bloating. Many, who are on low calorie diets, find that their body retains more fluids than they desire. A small piece of chocolate each day is sufficient to expel this build-up of water, creating a more streamlined abdominal region.
A 2006 study showed that rats who were fed a diet of between 56-256mg daily of theobromine over a 28 day period showed both increased heart efficiency but also weight loss. Seven days into the trial, the rats began to show significant weight loss and after 28 days, the total cholesterol level, triglycerides and VLDL cholesterol were all significantly decreased. It was also noted that HDL cholesterol — the good cholesterol — showed an increase at the 28-day tests.
Many also believe that theobromine is an aphrodisiac, and those “feel good: feelings that are received when salivating over a piece of chocolate can help explain why many consider themselves addicted to chocolate. Such happy feelings can make people more inclined to get out and exercise versus those who have a diet high in sugary treats.
Chocolate is more than just a little treat that you should guiltily devour in secret. A piece of dark chocolate each day will help you not only look better, but feel better too. No wonder the word theobromine means “food of the gods.”
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Acta Pharmacol Toxicol (Copenh). 1984 Jan;54(1):64-71.