By Amber King

Who doesn’t like a nibble or two of dark chocolate?  When you have an urge for something indulgent, a bite of bittersweet chocolate is like ambrosia to the tongue.  However, chocolate has a reputation for adding inches to the waistline.  It isn’t a low-calorie food, but despite the abundance of calories in the average chocolate bar, studies show that even its aroma could help you eat less.

A study conducted by researchers in Denmark made a delicious discovery.  They challenged a group of young women to either smell or eat 30 grams of melted dark chocolate with 85 percent cocoa content.  They found the women who devoured the dark chocolate felt less hungry afterward. Ghrelin is a hormone that goes up when you don’t eat for a while, and when it rises you experience hunger pangs and cravings.  When the researchers measured how much ghrelin the participants had in their bloodstream, their levels were lower.  This isn’t surprising since dark chocolate is a satiating treat.

More surprising is how the women who only smelled the dark chocolate reacted.  Their hunger was satiated and their ghrelin levels dropped. The subjects who only smelled the dark chocolate had a similar response as those who ate it.

Why would the aroma of dark chocolate suppress appetite?

As you might have noticed when you have a cold, your sense of taste is closely tied to your sense of smell.  If your sinuses are stopped up and you can’t breathe easily, food tastes bland.  One theory is that tasting or smelling dark chocolate tricks your brain into thinking you’ve fed it chocolate.  Because your body thinks you’ve eaten, your brain tells the cells lining your stomach to release less ghrelin and your appetite diminishes.

Dark chocolate isn’t the only scent that can curb the desire to eat.  Some studies show that a whiff of peppermint or banana can calm appetite and food cravings.  Therefore you may not have to eat to calm your hunger; the aroma may suffice.

It’s Okay to Eat or Take a Whiff
Fortunately, studies show that dark chocolate is a rich source of anti-inflammatory compounds called flavonoids.  Research finds that the flavonoids in dark chocolate lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation inside the artery walls.  That’s important since inflammation contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke risk.

So don’t feel guilty!
Even cardiologists recommend eating a little dark chocolate each day.  The key is to control portions and not devour an entire bar. If you’re trying to lose weight, you could instead take a whiff when you feel an urge to snack.  Look for a dark chocolate bar that contains at least 70 percent cacao, an indirect measure is the flavonoid levels in the bar.  Choose one with less than 7 grams of sugar or sweetened with the non-calorie natural sweetener Stevia.  Don’t choose milk chocolate because it’s higher in sugar and lacks the heart-healthy flavonoids that dark chocolate has.

The Bottom Line
Keep some dark chocolate on hand when cravings strike!  A whiff may be all you need and even if you eat a square or two, you’re still getting health benefits.  Dark chocolate is even a source of some minerals like iron and magnesium, a mineral that helps control blood pressure and is important for our health.  So enjoy a whiff or a bite! 

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