Sweet! It sounds too good to be true, but eating chocolate or cake for breakfast aids weight loss, according to a surprising new study. Researchers from Tel Aviv University report that having dessert, as part of a balanced 600-calorie breakfast that also includes protein and carbs, helps dieters shed pounds and keep them off.
In what’s been hailed as “the best study ever” by dieters, the researchers say that adding sweets to breakfast helps quell cravings throughout the day. During the 32-week long study, which was published in the medical journal Steroids, participants who topped off breakfast with dessert—cake, cookies, or chocolate--shed an average of 40 pounds more than those who avoided such foods.
Here’s a closer look at the study.
Dr. Daniela Jakubovicz, who co-authored the study with researchers from Wolfson Medical Center, believes that the composition of your morning meal is key to weight-loss success, because the right eating plan curbs hunger and the urge to binge later in the day.
Specifically, the combination of protein and carbohydrates at breakfast used in the study reduces levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin. Study participants who ate breakfast plus sweets reported that they felt more satisfied, with fewer cravings during the day.
"Only a diet that protects you against hunger and addiction prevents weight gain," says Dr. Jakubovicz.
Highly restrictive eating plans that ban sweets and refined carbs initially get pounds off, but dieters often find that their willpower breaks down when they’re deprived of their favorite treats. As result, people often stop following the diet and gain back some or all of the weight they lost.
The researchers randomly divided 193 obese, non-diabetic adults were into two groups. Each group had the same intake of calories: 1,600 a day for men and 1,400 for women.
However, the first group was put on a low-carb diet with a 300-calorie breakfast, and the other group was given a 600-calorie breakfast that included a dessert, such as chocolate, cookies, or cake.
The low-carb group reported that their craving for sugar and carbs grew more and more intense over the 32-week study until they started to cheat on the diet. They “had less satisfaction and felt they were not full,” Dr. Jakubovicz reported.
Conversely, the group who ate the bigger breakfast with dessert reported few, if any cravings, and found it easier to stick to the diet.
Halfway through the study, participants in both groups had shed an average of 33 pounds. But in the second half of the study, striking differences emerged:
It’s crucial to keep in mind that dessert was just part of a 600-calorie breakfast, so we’re talking about small portions of sweets, not gobbling up handfuls of M&Ms or a huge slice of red velvet cake piled with frosting. Also, the participants ate a low-calorie, low-carb diet the rest of the day, so after the 600-calorie breakfast, men were limited to an additional 1,000 calories for the rest of the day, and women to 800.
While some nutritionists who reviewed the study say that eating sugary foods in the morning leads to blood sugar swings that might increase craving for sweets later—and point out that refined carbs are unhealthy--Dr. Jakubovicz contends that over the long term, if you have a sweet tooth, depriving yourself of foods you enjoy will sabotage weight loss.
Many studies show that skipping breakfast leads to packing on unwanted pounds, so eating a good breakfast is crucial to successful weight control. It’s also important to limit the amount of sugar in your diet, since excessive sweets can be extremely harmful to health, raising risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and premature death.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming a maximum of 100 calories a day of added sugar (about 6 teaspoons) for women, and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men.
If cravings for sweets are derailing your diet, consider eating a few squares of dark chocolate with your breakfast. In moderation, dark chocolate has beneficial effects on blood pressure, the National Institutes of Health recently reported, along with a variety of other health benefits. And in small portions (an ounce or two) it’s a delicious way to satisfy your sweet tooth without gaining weight.
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