Tips from Nancy Clark
CHOCOLATE: A love affair
"I love chocolate, but I feel so guilty when I sneak a candy
"I get wicked cravings for chocolate..I've even gone to the
store at 1:00 am to buy Hershey's Kisses."
"I can tell I'm premenstrual by my cravings for chocolate...!"
If you are like most active people, chocolate is among your favorite
foods. Chocolate is universally loved in all developed countries
and has been touted as "a gift of the gods." About 50%
of all food cravings are for chocolate, far more than cravings for
"something sweet" (16%), salty foods (12%), baked goods
(11%), and fruit (4%). Some people go so far as saying they are
addicted to chocolate.
The question arises: Why is chocolate such a powerful food? And
what makes it the most commonly craved food? (About 40% of women
and 15% of men report chocolate cravings.) Scientists have extensively
studied chocolate, trying to determine the source of its power beyond
having a pleasurable taste, smell, and texture.
Although we do not know the exact reasons why chocolate is so popular,
we do know chocolate alters brain chemistry and creates a pleasant
mood. Chocolate contains substances similar to drugs that may account
for chocolate's stimulant, anti-depressant, and mood altering effects.
But the mystery remains, why does just chocolate, and no other food,
contain this exquisit combination of substances that induces a desire
to eat it for a sense of well-being?
If chocolate is on your favorite food list, the following article
may answer some questions you have about chocolate and its role
in both your daily diet and sports diet.
How bad is chocolate for my health?
The good news is, chocolate is not as bad for your health as you
may think. That is, chocolate actually contains some health-protective
anti-oxidants, as well as a type of fat that is neutral in terms
of heart disease. Certainly, chocolate should be eaten in moderation
(in addition to a variety of wholesome foods) and for pleasure--not
for nutritional value. That is, eating chocolate after lunch is
nutritionally acceptable, but eating two chocolate bars for lunch
Given the guideline that 10% of daily calories can appropriately
come from sugar, and 25% from fat, most active people can budget
in 200 to 300 calories of chocolate per day within the context of
a healthful diet. That's one big candy bar, guilt-free! A 1.55 oz.
Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar, for example, is 230 calories-- 90
calories from sugar, 115 from fat.
How much caffeine is in chocolate?
Although chocolate has the reputation for being loaded with caffeine,
it actually contains very little--about the amount in one cup of
decaffeinated coffee. The energy burst provided by chocolate more
likely comes from its sugar content than from caffeine. In comparison
to a small, 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee with about 100 milligrams
of caffeine (depending on how it's brewed), or one ounce of espresso
with about 40 milligrams of caffeine, the typical 1.55 ounce milk
chocolate candy bar offers only 10 milligrams of caffeine. The same
amount of semi-sweet dark chocolate offers about 30 milligrams,
and a one-ounce square of baker's chocolate, 25 milligrams. (Note:
Dark chocolate contains more cocoa, hence more caffeine.) A glass
of chocolate milk has only 5 milligrams, an insignificant amount,
even for kids.
Why do I feel addicted to chocolate?
So-called "chocolate addictions" are common among dieters
and athletes who fail to consume adequate calories. When your body
is too hungry and screams for quick energy, you can easily succomb
to chocolate chip cookies, brownies, or candy bars. Eating chocolate
is the symptom of this nutritional concern; getting too hungry is
the real problem. Even a self-proclaimed chocoholic cyclist exclaimed
"I have not eaten chocolate at all this week--nor have I missed
even it--now that I am having 600 calories of cereal/milk/banana
& juice for breakfast (instead of just a banana) and 600 calories
of PB&J sandwich, yogurt and apple for lunch (instead of just
a yogurt). I've even lost weight, much to my amazement, on 1,800
calories...and I feel better when I eat less sugar."
How fattening is chocolate?
Chocolate is only fattening if you eat too much of it and blow your
calorie budget on a whole bag of M&Ms or batch of brownies.
This can easily happen when you get too hungry or stressed.
Why do I have monthly premenstrual chocolate cravings?
About one-third of women will agree that nothing does the job of
resolving premenstrual sweet cravings as well as some delicious,
melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. The cyclical nature of women's chocolate
cravings supports the involvement of hormonal fluctuations. If you
are a chocolate craver, I recommend you eat chocolate for breakfast,
get rid of the craving, and then feel content all day. Otherwise,
you'll try to stay away from chocolate, only to succomb to eating
"the whole thing" that evening. If you're destined to
eat chocolate eventually, why "hold off" until evening
when you want it now?
Will I "crash" if I eat chocolate before I exercise?
Despite popular belief, eating a candy bar five minutes before exercise
can actually enhance performance, not hinder it. While a banana,
yogurt, or energy bar would be nutritionally preferable, any fuel
in your tank is better than no fuel--particularly if you are underfed
and overhungry. The better way to improve performance is to eat
more breakfast and lunch, plus a 200 to 300 calorie snack within
the hour before you exercise. This fueling pattern can enhance exercise
performance by 20% in the last 10 minutes of a one-hour exercise
bout. In comparison, you may improve only 10% by eating just a candy
bar vs eating nothing and exercising on empty.
Nancy Clark, MS, RD is Director of Nutrition Services
at SportsMedicine Associates in Brookline MA. She is author of Nancy
Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Second Edition ($23) and her
new Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions ($20).
Both are available via www.nancyclarkrd.com
or by sending a check to Sports Nutrition Materials, 830 Boylston
St #205, Brookline MA 02467.
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