Postmenopausal women may want to add some milk chocolate to their mornings, according to the results of a new study published in The FASEB Journal. Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School’s second biggest teaching hospital, and from the University of Murcia, Spain, found that the potential health benefits of eating chocolate in the morning may include higher rates of fat burning and lower blood sugar. While guilt-free chocolate is always important, there’s something much bigger at play – the role of food timing in health, including weight control.
Research Reveals the Health Benefits of Eating Chocolate in the Morning
The researchers studied the impact of eating 100 grams of milk chocolate at one of two very specific times of the day. These times were within one hour of waking up and during the hour before bedtime. The study subjects were all postmenopausal women. While neither chocolate time slot resulted in weight gain, there were health benefits associated with eating chocolate during the first hour after waking up in the morning.
According to the researchers, eating chocolate in the morning seemed to have a positive metabolic system impact, contributing to lower blood sugar levels and a higher degree of fat burning. Eating chocolate in the morning was found to decrease appetite, leaving women feeling less hungry through the day, with fewer sweet food cravings. It was also found to be associated with lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
The Big Picture – Chrononutrition
Chrononutrition could be considered to be an offshoot of chronobiology, the study of biological rhythms, such as the circadian rhythm, and their impact on the function and health of body and mind. Chrononutrition studies the impact of the timing of food and nutrition and the relationships between nutrition, metabolism and circadian rhythms. As scientific understanding of the role of biological rhythms in the mechanical functioning of the body and the brain expands, the body of evidence concerning the importance of meal timing continues to grow, with this recent chocolate study contributing further evidence that food timing really does matter.
Gaining a deeper understanding of the health impact of meal timing has huge health implications. As a simple look around you can demonstrate, obesity rates have simply skyrocketed during the past few decades. Less than one third of American adults are at a healthy body weight, with 36.5 percent being obese and just over 32 percent falling into the overweight category.
Rates of metabolic system related health conditions, such as diabetes, have shot up right alongside this increase in the number of overweight and obese people. The evidence is building up to solidly prove that meal timing, with the right nutrients at the right time, can help with weight control and improve health.
The chocolate timing study also demonstrated connections between what and when we eat and sleep quality and circadian rhythm. For example, study participants that ate chocolate in the evening reported a higher number of instances of fragmented sleep. Sleep and wake cycles are tightly intertwined with the circadian rhythm. This is another growing area of scientific inquiry, leading to an increasing body of knowledge regarding the connections between nutrient and meal timing and sleep quality, which is connected to having a healthy circadian rhythm.
With sleep disorders and sleep deprivation on the rise, this is no small matter. The timing of nutrients, such as carbohydrates and proteins, does matter when it comes to getting better sleep. This, in turn, can translate into better health, including a more robust immune system and a healthier circadian rhythm.
Meal Timing and You
The timing of chocolate consumption was also shown to impact metabolism, including energy production, further confirmation of the concept that timing matters in your day-to-day diet and its impact on your overall health and well-being. Arranging mealtimes to result in an 8- to 12- hour overnight fast is beneficial to maintaining a healthy weight.
Concentrating your carbohydrates in the earlier part of day, thus fueling you when you actually need the energy, helps with weight management. That strategy also helps to decrease the potential for insulin resistance, reducing the risk of type two diabetes, and promotes better sleep at night.
Greatly reducing or even eliminating carbohydrates from your last meal of the day yields less glucose in your blood as you enter your overnight fasting period. That encourages fat burning, as without sugar to use for fuel, the body will utilize fat to meet its energy needs. An evening meal focused on healthy proteins and low-carb vegetables can also help to improve your sleep duration and quality.
Natural Rhythms for Better Health
Chronobiology-influenced meal timing works with the very mechanics of how our bodies and brains function, all the way down to the cellular level. This new study on eating chocolate in the morning underscores how the timing of meals and time-specific nutritional strategies could very well be critical elements in helping to overcome some of our most stubborn public health problems, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and poor sleep quality.