Chocolate: Elixir of Love…and Weight Loss?


— By Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz —


Chocolate1Chocolate and love. The two are so intertwined, not only are they synonymous with Valentine’s Day, the mystique of chocolate has manifested in movies such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Like Water for Chocolate, and the 2001 Academy Award nominee Chocolat, a charming fable wherein chocolate has the power to instill loving feelings even into those who are seemingly most resistant to its love-laced magic.

And of course there’s Forrest Gump, with its famous line, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” But as science continues to focus its microscope on chocolate, the more we do know what we’re “gonna get” when we consume choice dark chocolate with high cocoa content: emotional gratification, enhanced heart health, and most recently, increased odds of staying slim. How amazing! Just as we think chocolate, itself, is perfection (and it is!), we’re learning more and more about the wonders it works on body, mind, and soul.


A Natural High

For centuries, chocolate has been lauded in literature, has been christened “food of the gods” with its botanical name (Theobroma cacao), and has flourished as a reputed aphrodisiac. Clearly, chocolate is one of life’s greatest delights. Anyone who has experienced the emotional ambrosia associated with choice chocolate knows it lives up to its reputation. Here’s why.

Consider what happens when you consume the sweet-and-creamy concoction of cocoa—the main ingredient in chocolate—combined with sugar and fat: blues-busting endorphins—naturally occurring substances (hormones) in the brain that function as painkillers and produce pleasurable feelings—are released, as is soothing serotonin (see “Overcoming Emotional Eating”). Such mood enhancers are compounded by the phenylethylamine (PEA) in chocolate, a substance that likely enhances the release of endorphins. Indeed, the PEA released when you eat chocolate is the same PEA that produces its euphoric side effects when you fall in love. In this way, the chocolate/love link seems to be literal. So, too, are druglike components in chocolate such as caffeine and phenylethylamine, which may be a recipe for “chocoholism.”


Help for Your Heart…and Waistline?

As insights into the healing properties of chocolate continue to grow, more and more researchers are realizing chocolate offers even more than feel-good feelings and alleged aphrodisiac powers.

Heart-healthy benefits. Equally interesting is research about good-quality dark chocolate—which contains a high percentage of cocoa—presented to the European Society of Cardiology in Munich. Apparently dark chocolate’s high levels of cocoa flavonoids—antioxidants that mop up artery-clogging chemicals in the body—may help reduce heart disease by protecting blood vessels from damaging substances called free radicals.1

Choice chocolate has yet more heart-helping benefits: Antioxidants in chocolate, called polyphenols, lower cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure;2 it’s been linked with lower risk of dying from a heart attack;3 and the antioxidant epicatechin,* abundant in cocoa/chocolate, may improve blood flow, and therefore, heart-health.1

Ward off weight gain? Can the benefits of chocolate get even better? It seems so. Recent research has revealed there’s the possibility chocolate may help you stay slim. When Beatrice A. Golomb, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues, surveyed 1000 adults, average age of  57, they discovered that those who exercised regularly (an average of 3.6 times a week) and ate chocolate regularly (five times a week) had a lower body mass index (BMI)—one BMI point lower, which is roughly five to seven pounds—than those who ate chocolate less often. And chocolate eaters weighed less even though they consumed more total calories and more saturated fat than less frequent chocolate eaters.4

What might be the reason for this metabolic mystery? Researchers speculate the secret “slimming ingredient” in chocolate that amps up metabolism is the antioxidant epicatechin. This antioxidant powerhouse seems to work its weight-loss wonders by boosting energy-producing elements of the body’s cells. And there’s more good news: This naturally occurring, disease-fighting ingredient in chocolate has almost twice the antioxidant amount found in red wine and nearly three times that of green tea (in vitro).5


Eat Chocolate, Weigh Less?

Eat more chocolate and weigh less. It’s an intriguing idea, isn’t it? While it seems that chocolate does, indeed, have metabolic benefits that can lead to weight loss—reaping the rewards depends on eating the right kind and the right amount. Here, two tips to optimize your success:

Right kind. It’s all about cocoa content. Eating a chocolate bar, brownie, cookie, or cake (or even milk chocolate) each day isn’t going to give you the weight-loss results you want. Not only are such chocolate temptations high in calories, they also have a lot of health-harming fats and sugar. The right kind: dark chocolate, dark chocolate, dark chocolate. And the darker the better, meaning, choose chocolate with a cocoa content that’s 70% or higher.

Right amount. Surprisingly, it only takes a small amount of the right kind of chocolate to access its health-enhancing effects. To get the mind-body benefits without the high-calorie downside, choose about an ounce of dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70 percent or higher) each day. What does one ounce look like in real life? It’s about the size of a credit card. Instead of measuring, try this simple guideline: If the piece of chocolate is thick—as in the photo at the start of this post—have one piece; if it’s thinner and smaller, enjoy two or three pieces.

Choose the right kind of chocolate—in the right quantity—and you’ll be adding another piece to the optimal-eating puzzle that not only won’t add extra weight, it may help you to attain and maintain weight loss. (For other key pieces of the make-weight-loss-last puzzle, please see our research and Special Edition: “Jumpstart,” “10-Step Successful Loser Series,” and “The Whole Person Nutrition Program.”)


Chocolate Bites

chocolate2The enticing combination of creamy fat and cocoa. The blues-busting benefits of endorphins. The release of relaxing serotonin. The euphoric “fall in love” side effect of PEA. A healthier heart. And now, perhaps a boost in metabolism and increased odds of staying slimmer. There are many reasons so many of us love (crave?) the delicious, feel-good elixir that is chocolate. Here, some strategies for savoring the experience of pure chocolate…

Nibble chocolate nibs. Found in the center of the cocoa bean, nibs are the basis of chocolate. Though somewhat bitter and crumbly without added sugar, nibs have a super-strong chocolate taste.

Choose chocolate chips. Or a piece of choice chocolate. If you choose chips, try just a small handful or tablespoon. Or savor a single piece of your favorite chocolate.

Consider cocoa. Cocoa powder is very low in fat, and high in all of chocolate’s health-enhancing ingredients. Savor and stretch cocoa’s mood-enhancing benefits by lingering over a cup of hot chocolate.


chocolate3Hot chocolate choices…

  • If you’re a purist, just add hot water to a tablespoon or two of cocoa in cup.
  • If you use pure cocoa without added sugar, the natural sweetness in warmed milk (traditional dairy, or soy, almond, rice milk—whatever you prefer) will add a natural sweetness and additional flavor.
  • Place two pieces of choice chocolate in a cup. Add hot milk of choice. Stir until the chocolate melts. Enjoy.
  • For an unusual hot chocolate treat, try hot chocolate made with nibs. To satisfy your taste buds, figure out how you like it: Try making the “nib hot chocolate” with some sort of milk, and/or a little vanilla extract, and/or perhaps a teaspoon of added sugar.


Reaping the Rewards

The key concept to reaping the rewards of choice chocolate is to go as pure as possible. Look up “pure” and you’ll find words such as clean, wholesome, unmixed, and unalloyed (meaning, nothing is added). In other words, in general, there’s no benefit to traditional and processed chocolate candy or cake “products.” If you decide to include an ounce of choice chocolate into your diet each day, keep it simple. Choose dark chocolate with little or nothing added. And keep in mind that organic is optimal, because it’s the least adulterated form for your chocolate fix.



  1. Dark Chocolate Helps Blood Flow, Scientists Find.  2013  [cited 2013 February 7, 2013]; Available from:
  2. Zomer E, Owen A, Magliano DJ, Liew D, Reid CM. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of dark chocolate consumption as prevention therapy in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease: best case scenario analysis using a Markov model. BMJ. 2012; 344: e3657, PMID 22653982.
  3. Janszky I, Mukamal KJ, Ljung R, Ahnve S, Ahlbom A, Hallqvist J. Chocolate consumption and mortality following a first acute myocardial infarction: the Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program. Journal of internal medicine. 2009; 266(3): 248-57, PMID 19711504.
  4. Golomb BA, Koperski S, White HL. Association between more frequent chocolate consumption and lower body mass index. Archives of internal medicine. 2012; 172(6): 519-21, PMID 22450943.
  5. Heneman K, Zidenberg-Cherr S. Nutrition and Health Info-Sheet: Some Facts About Catechins.  2013  [cited 2012 February 8, 2013]; Available from:


Related posts:
“Overcoming Emotional Eating”

Make Weight Loss Last by Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz
The Healing Secrets of Food by Deborah Kesten
Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul by Deborah Kesten

Next post:

Think outside the diet to make weight loss last with our next post, “Night Eating: A Triple Weight-Whammy posted on our mwllNOW blog.

You’ll get plenty of clarity about what’s true and useful—or not—by keeping up with nutritionist Deborah Kesten, MPH, and research scientist Larry Scherwitz, PhD, the writers of this post, by liking them on Facebook, following them on Twitter, or sending us an email.


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