What are the best sugar substitutes? Let me point you in the right direction, because there are so many sugar substitutes around that it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the confusion.
That’s the main goal of this page. 5 substitutes to choose from. Not just the best sugar substitutes but the best natural substitutes that are blood sugar friendly.
And I would keep it simple. I will show you 5 natural sugar substitutes that you can use safely. These 5 natural sugar substitutes have a good metabolic profile.
These natural sugar substitutes will not spike your blood sugar when consume them.
These natural sugar substitutes will not spike your insulin levels when you consume them.
These natural sugar substitutes will not increase your calorie intake when you consume them.
Why do we need sugar substitutes?
Another way to paraphrase that question is: why is sugar bad for you? The reasons are plentiful. Probably a list that is long enough to constitute a subject for a book.
Indeed, below is a book titled ‘Pure White and Deadly’, you should get a copy of. Written by John Yudkin, it is a sweet outline (pun intended) of why this much loved white substance can turn our lives bitter. And it has been ruining lives ever since its discovery…quietly.
That we are facing an obesity crisis is not in question. If you have doubts, just look around you the next time you visit your high street or the shopping mall. Guess what the average BMI is when you look around you.
Why…because ultra-processed foods have their glycemic index altered favouring a spike in blood glucose concentration and a consequential insulin spike.
Another cause of obesity is the over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages across all age groups. The problem is, children are already being afflicted with this malady. This has potential health implications for healthcare delivery in the years to come.
I know you love your sugar. It tastes so sweet and therefore sweetens everything for you but sugar is one of the worst things to be ever invented.
Sugar does nothing other than cause you metabolic problems, both immediate and in the long term.
Worst still, sugar is addictive. Maybe not as addictive as cocaine but it stimulates the same pleasure centres in the brain to make us feel good and crave it some more.
Sugar is just that. Sugar. Sugar has no vitamins. Sugar has no minerals. All it’s got is taste and calories.
Sugar has a tendency to make you overeat dosing up on more calories than you need. Sugar has a huge influence on the interplay of hormones that affect weight management.
Sugar is the biggest player in hedonic eating. In the years gone by, hunger and the need to eat was driven by the need for calories i.e energy needs. Today, the picture is entirely different. Food consumption, it would appear, is now driven by the need for pleasure as opposed to the need for calories.
That in essence is hedonic hunger.
And the principal driver for hedonic hunger and hedonic eating is sugar. There’s so much food available for us to consume these days and food manufacturers have been very manipulative. In hedonic eating, satiety plays a second fiddle to desire. We become more responsive to food cues on account of prior priming by sugar.
Food manufacturers optimize their foods for taste and what do they use? Sugar. Sugar makes food palatable, hence you see added sugar in practically every processed food out there.
So much about what sugar does. But I wanted to point out why avoiding sugar is crucial to your weight loss efforts. Not just weight loss but weight maintenance. Need I say, your overall health too.
With that in mind, let’s now turn our attention to healthier alternatives to sugar. If I am asking you to avoid sugar, then it will be nice to have a fall-back position.
Products you can use that provide the same level of sweetness without the baggage of sucrose, your regular table sugar.
So, what are the best natural sugar substitutes?
Let me present to you the 5 of the best natural sugar substitutes you will ever lay your hands on. Choose any of these and you will be fine.
The sunflower family has the pleasure of providing us with this awesome plant called Stevia Rebaudiana. A wild plant indigenous to the people of Brazil and Paraguay.
These indigenous people have always used the stevia plant for a variety of medicinal and culinary purposes. Lately, however, the Chinese have taken over the growing and extraction of the stevia sugar substitute from this plant as its commercial potential has grown and grown.
The sweet compounds, the bit sold to us, are actually called stevia glycosides. These are extracted by a process involving a lot of steps inclusive of cold-pressing, decolouring and bleaching.
The most popular stevia glycosides are stevioside and rebaudioside A. These 2 stevia glycosides have different tastes.
Stevioside does appear to give you more than sweetness when consumed than rebaudioside A glycoside.
Stevia does have other beneficial effects on health according to a number of studies. Well, after all those South Americans have been using it for medicinal purposes for centuries.
So, it’s worth investigating, if you ask me. And some scientists did just that.
It also does look like, supplementing your food with Stevia according to this study will yield you a better glycemic control from your meal. This is particularly useful, if you have type 2 diabetes because that study was actually carried out on type 2 diabetics.
A lot of the Stevia products tend to have varying amounts of stevioside and rebaudioside A in different proportions, although some will contain just one single compound.
This usually accounts for difference in taste depending on the brand. Some stevia products do leave an after-taste which can be off-putting for some people. But I have also had stevia products without after-taste which is a lot more appealing.
If you do want a natural sugar substitute product that has additional health benefits, then Stevia is certainly a contender. Stevia is available in liquid form, granulated or powder form.
Stevia has a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) certification so long as daily consumption does not exceed 4mg per kg body weight.
Discovered way back in 1848 by Scottish scientist, John Stenhouse. Erythritol occurs naturally in some fruits and other fermented foods. Erythritol is one of the sugar alcohols because it is made commercially by fermenting glucose with yeast.
Even though most of the erythritol when consumed gets absorbed into the bloodstream, erythritol will not raise your blood sugar. Instead erythritol goes through to the kidneys where it gets excreted in urine.
This is because our bodies do not have the enzymes necessary to break down erythritol, hence it passes through our body unchanged.
This is particularly important in the sense that you are unlikely going to develop flatulence by consuming erythritol.
Erythritol will not raise your blood sugar, blood triglycerides or insulin levels, as the majority of it (90%) is absorbed and excreted from the body unchanged.
This gives you confidence that consuming erythritol will not add to your energy intake for the day. This qualifies erythritol as a low-energy natural sugar substitute as the available energy of erythritol in human is less than 1.7 kJ/g (0.4 kcal/g).
The low energy effect of erythritol was demonstrated in this study which demonstrated no effect on body weight and also no effect on blood pressure. In that study participants did not have any bowel side effects from using erythritol.
From all of the above, Erythritol is suitable not just for non-diabetics but also a good natural sugar substitute for diabetics.
I personally use erythritol and have found it very satisfying.
Grown in the Peruvian mountains, yacon syrup is made from the plant Smallanthus sonchifolius. The Peruvians have yacon as part of their diet and if Dr Oz’s claim is anything to go by, you could get more from yacon syrup than sweetness.
The texture is similar to molasses and in that Dr Oz’s video, the claim is that Yacon syrup has only 7 calories per teaspoon (1.3 calories/gm of the syrup).
Yes, yacon syrup has calories but the calorific value of Yacon is low enough for it to be considered a viable low-calorie sugar substitute.
This 4-month study on pre-menopausal obese women with lipid dysfunction appear to show that yacon syrup could well be good for weight loss.
What? A natural sugar substitute that can actually facilitate weight loss? Well, that’s the finding from that study.
The study appears to show that yacon syrup can help you lose body fat as shown by the reduction in waist circumference. Yacon syrup also reduces your fasting blood insulin level but no direct effect on blood sugar reduction.
Yacon syrup may be good for reducing bad cholesterol (LDL Cholesterol) too.
Daily consumption though may have gastro-intestinal side effect of increasing frequency of defaecation. That could be a good thing if you are someone who suffers from constipation.
The active ingredient in yacon syrup is fructo-oligosaccharide which has been shown to be effective in regulating satiety through its effect on appetite hormones, like ghrelin.
With this in mind, yacon syrup may be a good natural sugar substitute in both diabetics and non-diabetics.
For some reason, xylitol is being marketed as a product for prevention of tooth decay. In truth, all sugar substitutes are not fermentable by bacteria on the tooth, in particular, bacteria on the dental plaque.
Xylitol goes a step further. Xylitol actually prevents the bacteria from sticking onto the tooth in the first place. By this very characteristic, xylitol prevents plaque formation which is a precursor to tooth decay.
Xylitol appears to form a thin coating film around the tooth protecting the tooth from bacterial invasion. This prevents plaque formation and by extension prevents tooth decay too.
Hence xylitol has become one of the commonest sugar substitutes used in chewing gums.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Xylitol is found in some fruits and vegetables but mainly in corn and birch wood trees. Xylitol was my natural sugar substitute of choice for a long time until I discovered erythritol.
One reason for my switch to erythritol was the fact that xylitol has 40% fewer calories compared to natural table sugar, sucrose. That equates to 2.4 calories per gram of xylitol. Erythritol in comparison has much less. 0.4 calories/gm to be precise.
Xylitol has minimal effect on blood sugar though. Xylitol has a glycemic index of 10 and corresponding effect insulin levels.
Beyond that, studies like this one and this one indicate xylitol has a positive influence of calcium metabolism which may come in handy for the prevention of osteoporosis.
About 50% of xylitol is absorbed. On this account, xylitol may cause gastro-intestinal upset in the form of diarrhoea, flatulence and bloating.
Monk fruit appears to be a popular natural sugar substitute in both the US and Australia. It is yet to be approved for use in Europe as at the time of writing.
Monk fruit extract called Mogroside appears to have sweetness that is 280 times that of regular table sugar, sucrose.
Monk fruit product called Luo Han Guo in China is marketed as Norbu Sweetner in Australia. It still has a pending GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) certification by the Food and Drug Administration.
Monk fruit is a green fruit native to China and Thailand. Has been used in these regions for culinary delicacies in soups, herbal teas, broths and medicinal application. For instance, in China, the fruit is used for cough, sore throat and some Chinese actually use it for longevity.
Extracting the mogrosides from the monk fruit requires a lot of steps after the fruit has been de-seeded.
The process of extracting these mogrosides has been patented by Proctor & Gamble and they appear to get a substantial yield despite the presence of many potential substances that can actually interfere with the desired sweetness.
You have to be careful when you use monk fruit extract products in terms of your total energy intake for the day. For instance, this study confirmed that monk fruit extract will not raise your blood sugar. However, study participants were found to consume more food after the satiety effect of the initial consumption of monk fruit wore off.
So overall, you could eat more food than you need to; hours after consuming monk fruit extract products.
Monk fruit extracts though do not cause gastro-intestinal upset and monk fruit products have no after-taste like Stevia. Monk fruit has no effect on calories and will not raise your blood sugar when you use it.
Because of the complex extraction mechanism involved with getting the sweet mogroside out of the monk fruit, it can be expensive to purchase.
Hence, something you will see around you; is a hybrid of monk fruit mixed with other relatively cheaper natural sugar substitutes like stevia and erythritol. These hybrid products have been developed with the sole aim of driving down the cost and make it affordable for the end user.
In conclusion, natural sugar substitutes are great way to get your desired sweetness without upsetting your metabolic homeostatic balance.
Refined sugar is bad. Bad. Bad. Think obesity. Think heart disease. Think type 2 diabetes. Think stroke. Think even cancer.
You have no reason not to dump refined sugar now that technology allows us to have decent natural sugar substitutes made commercially available to us. Use any of these 5 natural sugar substitutes. They are the best…for now.
Why should you eat dark leafy greens? Yep, that’s a perfectly reasonable question.
And on this page, I’m going to explain why. You are going to know why you should eat dark leafy greens (everyday, if you can) and why these gifts of nature should constitute an essential part of your diet.
It is a given that leafy greens are supposedly good for you. But you have to wonder if this promise is being over-sold or not. Is it possible that the benefits of dark leafy greens represent a hyperbole?
I have dug deep into this and I can honestly say that, despite all the hype that the internet is known for these days, dark leafy greens do not fall into that category.
I have eaten and still continue to eat dark leafy greens and I can confirm that dark leafy greens actually represent one of the best things you can do to your health.
I am living proof of that but I will spare you the details of my personal experience here.
Suffice to say, I love dark leafy greens and you should love dark leafy greens too. Dark leafy greens are good for you. Take my word for it.
It doesn’t matter what diet you are on. Dark leafy green vegetables are always recommended. That fact is indisputable.
We aren’t just talking about vegetables in broad terms here. We are specifically talking about leafy green vegetables.
There is a difference. Dark leafy green vegetables are a subset of vegetables. Yes, by referring to leafy greens, we are actually talking about edible green leaves.
Broccoli for instance is a green vegetable. This is not about broccoli. This is about leaves that are green in colour.
That said, broccoli shares practically all the benefits of these dark leafy greens. So, the distinction here is purely academic.
So, what are the dark leafy green vegetables?
Allow me to share with you 10 of my best dark leafy green vegetables that you should be eating everyday. Just pick one for each day and eat it to your heart’s content. In actual fact your heart will thank you for it.
What are they? Well, below is a list of 10 dark leafy greens that should be in your grocery list without fail.
Wild rocket (Arugula)
These and other leafy greens are what’s on the spotlight here.
Historical perspective Eating dark leafy green vegetables is not new.
We have been eating them since pre-historic times. But their popularity in North America only took off when the Africans arrived there in the 17th century.
They were more widely eaten in the south at the time. Their use spread northwards over time.
In prehistoric times and in our hunter-gatherer days, dark leafy greens were part of the diet along with root vegetables.
If you were unlucky with the hunt, you knew that dark leafy greens and root vegetables were a fall-back food to rely on.
It is this wisdom from history that your Grandmother insisted you ate them. She knew from history that dark leafy greens were good for you.
But you had other ideas. You preferred modern junk food to dark leafy greens. Not the brightest idea in terms of your metabolic health.
Dark leafy greens can do so much more for your health, your metabolic health that it borders on recklessness to ignore these lovely nature’s gift to you.
Leafy greens are a treasure trove of goodness. The moment you introduce them to your diet, you will within a day or two begin to see the difference. That’s how quick the benefits of eating dark leafy green vegetables begin to add up.
Dark leafy greens provide some of the principal health-promoting functionalities of life and they are:
What more can you ask for!
So, why should you eat dark leafy green vegetables?
Well, the importance of eating dark leafy green vegetables cannot be over-emphasized.
If you do nothing else as far healthy living is concerned, you should eat leafy greens. Seriously, you should.
I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record there. Only because of their benefits, hence.
Now let’s talk about why leafy green vegetables are good for you.
Dark leafy greens have a high concentration of micro-nutrients.
One of the things people ignore when it comes to nutrition is micronutrients.
We concentrate so much efforts and energy on analysing macronutrients that we forget the most important element of healthy living. Micronutrients!
Micro-nutrients represent the most important part of cellular function.
If you lack micro-nutrients, it will manifest in all sorts of ways. Even that unexplained feeling of lethargy could be due to deficiencies in micro-nutrients.
Micro-nutrients are particularly important for smooth running of our cells. Micronutrients influence a range of bodily functions from hair growth to brain function.
By micronutrients, we are referring to vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Micronutrients will include minerals like zinc, copper, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, sodium, magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc and even zinc.
Vitamins will include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K.
Why are they called micronutrients? It’s because the thinking is that we don’t need a lot of these minerals and vitamins to survive.
You might need very little to survive but you need a whole lot more to be healthy. A lot of people aren’t even getting the little that is needed for basic survival mainly because their diet is highly lacking.
Manganese for instance helps your body with the metabolism of the macronutrients – the fat, the protein and the carbs. Manganese facilitates the release of energy from those macronutrients.
Sodium is essential as a blood electrolyte. Sodium helps with fluid balance within and outside the cells. Low sodium for instance can lead to brain swelling with disastrous consequences.
Magnesium is necessary for nerve and muscular function. Lack of magnesium can lead to muscle tension and has been linked to some mental health problems.
Need I mention that iron is an important component of our red blood cells. Without iron you won’t make good enough red blood cells resulting in anaemia. Fatigue, lethargy and even heart failure could happen if you don’t have enough iron from your food.
Iodine is essential for thyroid function. Without iodine, your thyroid gland won’t make enough thyroxine. Some weight gain issues are traceable to underactive thyroid. Besides your cognitive ability will plummet in the face of an underactive thyroid gland.
I could go on and on with the functions that micronutrients perform and I haven’t even touched the vitamins.
Micronutrients functions is a book in itself.
The point here is that dark leafy greens have an abundance of micronutrients. Consuming enough leafy greens means you can dump those supplements you have in your cabinet.
Dark leafy greens are packed with vitamins and minerals. You can’t go wrong with them.
And if you are wondering which dark leafy greens to start with. Well, it doesn’t matter much which one you eat. Just eat any.
However, if you would like a ranking based on nutrient density, you can have a look at the ranking scale that Brian Bender has put together at MyIntakePro here for extra guidance. Collard greens seem to top the list in terms of nutrient density and nutrient spread.
2. Leafy greens are the best for weight management
I have said it before. One of the best things you can do for weight management is consume lots of dark leafy greens and I am not joking.
If you are trying to lose weight, you should be adding leafy greens to your eating plan.
For me, it’s more than that though. It’s about the lifestyle. Eating leafy greens should be a lifelong plan. Not just for weight loss.
Having them in your weight loss plan however, is the most sensible thing you can ever do.
Why are leafy greens ideal for weight loss?
The main reason leafy greens are great for weight loss is because leafy greens are very low-calorie. Leafy greens have very little carb content. The glycemic index of dark greens is as low as you will ever get.
It means you can eats lots and lots of them without being concerned about their calorie content.
And you know what?
Leafy greens also fill you up because of their fiber content, So, you get the satiety without the calorie concerns. How cool is that?
And one more thing: The nitrites in dark leafy greens can have a direct effect on fat burning.
How do leafy greens nitrites do this?
By converting white fat to brown fat. White fat is the fat you don’t want but is the fat we mostly have as adults. White fat is just a stored, illness-promoting fat.
Brown fat on the other hand, is the fat found in babies. Brown fat is thermogenic. In other words, brown fat facilitates fat burning. You want that, don’t you?
Beyond that, leafy greens slow down the release of glucose from other foods you eat them with, all of which help with a lower insulin level. Another bonus for fat burning.
3. Dark leafy greens are great for diabetes management
One of the problems with diabetes is blood sugar control.
Solution: eat foods that won’t raise your blood sugar.
That advice is one of the hardest for diabetics to stick to. One reason being a lot of popular foods especially in the West are refined. Refined foods especially refined carbs raise blood sugar.
How about you introduce dark leafy greens to your diet. Dark leafy greens have a low sugar content.
Dark leafy greens won’t spike your blood sugar. That’s for sure!
Because of their low sugar content, leafy greens will not spike your insulin levels. This is particularly important for those who are insulin resistant.
In insulin resistance, you need to consume foods that won’t spike your insulin levels. Leafy greens won’t. It’s another reason, leafy green vegetables are good for weight management.
For anyone with insulin resistance, prediabetes and has type 2 diabetes, you’ll be doing your health a lot of favour by including dark leafy green vegetables in your diet.
Leafy greens are also good for diabetes prevention. Because of their omega 3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid), magnesium and polyphenol content, leafy greens enhance insulin sensitivity.
The more insulin sensitive you are, the better equipped you are, at dealing with glucose load from your meal. In fact, if you are sensitive, you would just have taken active steps to prevent diabetes.
4. Good for heart health
Another great reward for eating dark leafy greens is the protection leafy green vegetables provide for your heart.
And it’s not hard to see why leafy greens are good for your cardiovascular health.
Got problems with your heart and blood vessels? Eat more leafy greens.
There have been several cases of people who declined cardiac stents and reversed their heart disease by eating more greens.
In fact, dark leafy green vegetables are the main stay of Dr Caldwell Esselstyn heart disease reversal therapy. All the success Dr Esselstyn has had has been achieved wholly through nutrition.
And what does Dr Esselstyn advise? Eat more greens and lots of them every day.
Dr Esselstyn has had a lot of success reversing the heart disease patients whom had stent surgery planned and had a second opinion from him.
Not just heart disease patients who declined stent surgery but also those who have had so many stents and there was no more room for more stents. You could say, conventional cardiac surgeons had given up on them.
Dr Esselstyn’s dietary approach saved them via the gift of dark leafy greens. Don’t skip on the leafy greens.
5. Leafy Greens are good for your blood pressure and prevents stroke
One good reason why you should eat dark leafy greens is your cardiovascular health.
People with high blood pressure have blood vessels that have high resistance. That means the blood vessel walls aren’t pliable. Your blood vessels are stiff, so to speak, if you suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension).
If your blood vessel walls aren’t pliable, they put up a lot of resistance downstream, when your heart contracts to pump blood from within it.
The blood pressure reading you see on the blood pressure machine when your doctor or nurse checks your blood pressure is a measure of how resistant the vessel walls are, when your heart pumps blood from inside it.
Higher blood pressure reading means the resistance of the vessel walls downstream is high. Not ideal.
High resistance also means your heart has to do a lot more work to get the blood through to your body cells. Not what your heart was designed for.
Something that would alleviate that resistance is leafy greens. The reasons for that are as I stated earlier on in my preceding benefit for heart health. The same reasons apply here.
6. Leafy greens are a great source of fiber
You don’t need me to tell you that leafy greens have lots of fiber in them. That’s a given. It’s what the fiber does that is more important.
Fiber is your best friend and leafy greens got it…Plenty of it
Fiber is great for bowel health because it contains prebiotics. Prebiotics provide food for our healthy bowel bacteria through the production of short-chain fatty acids.
If you keep your gut healthy bacteria happy, they in turn will protect you in more ways than one. These gut healthy bacteria might just strengthen your immunity for a start.
Fiber also slows down the rate of glucose absorption from your carbs, thus preventing sugar spikes both in non-diabetics and diabetics.
Of course, fibre is great for making us ‘regular’ reducing our tendency to become constipated. Another bonus benefit from your leafy greens.
7. May help prevent cancer Leafy greens are packed full of phytochemicals such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin,quercetin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene
These phytochemicals have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory properties and also provide cellular support. Not just that, these phytochemicals play a role in epigenetics and the making of new DNA, RNA and new protein synthesis.
The last thing you want when new cells are being formed is for ‘accidents’ to happen. It is these accidents during cell division that lead to cancer.
For a start, you need folic acid to make new DNA and RNA as folic acid is involved in the methylation process.
Well, guess what?
Your lovely dark leafy greens have a rich abundance of folic acid.
There are several mechanisms by which leafy greens protect you from cancer. I have only just given a little overview here.
8. Leafy greens may help prevent vascular dementia
With 29% of Americans suffering from high blood pressure, that’s higher than 1 in 4 and a similar ratio in the UK, it is clear that a vascular dementia time bomb is in the offing in both countries.
Here is something that’s somewhat scary.
Guidelines for hypertension tend to define hypertension as blood pressures higher than 140/90 mm Hg.
This Whitehall Study showed that the threshold for vascular dementia is actually systolic blood pressure of 130 mm Hg NOT the 140mm Hg that guidelines set for doctors and the general population.
Your risk of developing vascular dementia goes up once your systolic blood pressure (the top value) is above 130mm Hg at age 50 and onwards.
High blood pressure in the middle age is a known risk factor for vascular dementia and vascular dementia is the next most common type of dementia after Alzheimers.
The brain is quite a huge tank of metabolic activity. This means your brain requires a huge supply of oxygen and nutrients. If anything compromises this supply, the risk of vascular dementia goes up.
In the same vein, anything that enhances this supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain protects your brain from degeneration.
That’s where the leafy greens come in.
Dark leafy greens provide powerful benefits both for your blood pressure and your brain. Leafy greens are full of nitrates which get converted to Nitric Oxide.
Nitric oxide relaxes your blood vessels making them less stiff. This enhances oxygenation of the brain and promotes nutrient supply as well including micro-nutrients.
All of these actions lower your risk of developing vascular dementia.
9. Dark leafy greens are good for sleep
One of the most ignored benefits of eating dark leafy greens is sleep promotion. I can attest to this benefit.
Once I introduced leafy greens into my daily routine, my sleep quality rocketed through the roof. And it’s not rocket science, by the way. You should try it.
This is something that you can actually have a proof of concept affordably by trying it out yourself. You don’t need some randomized controlled studies to prove this to you. You can prove it to yourself.
Four micronutrients – tryptophan, calcium, vitamin B6 and magnesium are essential for the manufacture of melatonin.
You need melatonin to sleep well.
Dark leafy greens have all of these substances, the tryptophan, the calcium, the vitamin B6 and the magnesium to varying degrees. Some more than others.
It’s not just about sleep. It’s more about the quality of the sleep. Get leafy greens and sleep better and wake up fresher.
I totally get your concern about eating carbs and gaining weight. I have something for you here about not gaining weight despite consuming carbs that you are going to love.
It’s not a 2-minute read by the way because I go deep as to how and why you can lose weight whilst eating the carbs and as usual backed with the scientific evidence.
I love carbs. Yep, I do. And you love carbs too, right?
Well, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that you can employ to have a carbohydrate load any day of the week safely. These are long term strategies by the way, not some short-term fads.
If you’re non-diabetic, these carb eating plans will help you manage your weight.
If you have prediabetes, these carb eating techniques will help you bring your blood sugar levels down. And even if you are diabetic, you will find these carb eating plans very useful in controlling your blood sugar too.
If eating carbs is right up your street and you are weight-conscious…
You may have been pondering:
How do I eat carbs without gaining weight?
Well, buckle up and read on:
Carbs are everywhere, aren’t they?
Carbohydrates are the most popular foods on the planet. The whole world is awash with carbs and we (me included) can’t get enough of them.
Whilst we are like a bull in a China shop in terms of carbs consumption, it’s probably best to take time out and reassess how we interact with carbohydrate foods.
I am not in any way suggesting that we stop eating carbs altogether. No way! I have tried that and it doesn’t work. Most dieters try that too and they fail miserably at least in the medium to long term anyway.
Asking people to cut out carbs is a classic example of being out of touch with reality.
But are carbs largely responsible for the obesity crisis we have the world over? Hmm, may be.
How do we get the bull out of the china shop and get him to calm down? That is the question. How do we take control of our carb cravings, rein them in and control our weight at the same time?
What do you do:
Depending on who you listen to, you get all sorts of varied advice regarding carbs and what to do with them.
Some gurus will tell you to cut carbs out altogether. Well, you can try that and see how that works for you.
I can almost guarantee that such an approach will fail. That approach may succeed in the short term but guaranteed to fall off the cliff in the long term. Wanna bet?
Another school of thought is the one preaching the very low carb high fat diet. Now, that is a valid approach that actually works. In my journey to a better health, I had initially gone with the very low carb high fat way of eating strategy.
…but for a short interval.
I did lose weight on it but I was not comfortable eating that way for the rest of my life. I shall be doing an article on why I came off the low carb high fat dietary lifestyle at a later date.
I am not trying to denigrate the low carb high fat diet here. Far from it. It works and it works for thousands of people all over the world but it’s just not my thing.
I’d rather have my carbs and reduce my fat consumption, in particular saturated fat. Regardless of what the evidence might be, scientific or otherwise, I do not think saturated fats are a thing I want to be friendly with.
I will not eliminate saturated fat completely from my diet, but their content will be in the region of 6% of my energy needs. Unsaturated fats are fine. Unsaturated fats are the type of fats you get from olives, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Indeed, unsaturated fats should be welcome into the fold but saturated fats in the diet need to be handled with care. And that’s my opinion and I am sticking to it.
Do you know what? It’s not just my opinion, the heart health organisations do agree with my opinion having looked at and weighed the evidence on saturated fats. Hmm, I can see myself digressing…
Okay, let’s get back on track:
To the topic of how to eat carbs without gaining weight.
In fact, you can eat carbs to lose weight and use carbs for weight maintenance too, would you believe it?
Yes, you can. I do it (consume carbs) every day without any problems…at all. You don’t need to cut out carbs from your life in order to lose weight.
Here are 4 ways to eat carbs without fear of gaining weight.
Before I go into the strategies, I would like you know (in brief) why we are doing this.
The reason we employ these strategies is to prevent us from spiking insulin when we consume carbs.
Why…because high levels of insulin lead to fat preservation and reduced fat burning. Insulin is a fat storing hormone. We need insulin to survive but we don’t need a lot of it.
Now that I have underscored the reason why and you understand it…let’s get to the carb eating strategies:
Cut down on the wrong carbs consumption
Going by what I said earlier on, it should be clear to you that I do not believe that carbs are your enemy. Carbs are actually your friends.
But like everything in life, you’ve got to choose your friends wisely. The same applies to carbs. Even though we want to welcome carbs into our lives with open arms, we need to choose our carbs carefully. You need to eat the right carbs.
The right carbs are good for you and will help you lose weight and maintain your weight. The wrong carbs will do the exact opposite.
The proponents of the low carb high fat lifestyle have always argued that the national dietary guidelines that advised we eat carbs are wrong.
They also believe the guidelines have been the reason for the obesity crisis in the Western world.
Truth be told: the guidelines are actually correct. They might need a little tweak here and there but the guidelines are largely correct. The reason people are getting fatter is because they are eating the wrong carbs.
Eating the wrong carbs is the problem. Not the guidelines!
So, what are the wrong carbs?
The wrong carbs are the highly-refined processed carbs. The more refined a carbohydrate food is, the higher the glycaemic index and also the less the nutritional value of that food.
Carbohydrate processing strips away the bran and some of the germ of the food leaving it exposed and fluffier in texture.
The refined carb might taste better but it is nutritionally inferior to the whole grain and like I said earlier, its ability to spike your insulin level exponentially increases as the glycaemic index shoots through the roof.
See image below which further explains why refined heavily processed carbs are bad for you.
What foods am I talking about? Here is a list of refined carbs or heavily processed carbs you may want to avoid or at the very least drastically reduce your consumption, if you want to eat carbs and not gain weight:
Refined white rice
Refined white pasta
Cookies or biscuits
Most chocolates especially white chocolates
High fructose corn syrup
Chips or crisps
Sweetened iced tea
The US Department of Agriculture USDA advises these foods should be eaten at no more than 3-oz per day.
The list is by no means exhaustive but you will be doing your metabolic health a big, big favour by avoiding those refined carbs on that list.
At the very least, consume them minimally. Going by the USDA recommendation, your consumption of them should not exceed 30 – 75 gm a day.
Whole grains are better any time of the day than refined grains. And that’s what you should be seeking in preference to refined grains.
Need some evidence: This study couldn’t have put it better.
“Whole-grain intake is generally inversely associated with BMI; refined grain intake is not. Because overall dietary quality tends to be higher for high-carbohydrate diets, a low-fat dietary strategy with emphasis on fiber-rich carbohydrates, particularly cereal fiber, may be beneficial for health and weight control”
2. The Cheat Technique of Eating Minimally Processed Carbs I have a friend who swears that eating rice is the only way she can have happiness in her life. She needs to get out more! Don’t you think?
Okay, let’s not be harsh on her. Life is about being flexible. Whilst the best approach is to eat whole grain carbs, you can still eat selected minimally processed carbs and still get away with it.
By minimally processed carbs, I am not talking about candies and other sweet confectioneries. I am rather talking about foods like white rice.
By the way, there is the brown rice alternative but I realise that a lot of people hate brown rice, mainly because of the texture which I admit can be quite coarse.
Just to be clear minimally processed carbs are different from heavily processed carbs. This bit is about minimally processed carbs like white rice or pasta.
So, how can you eat something like white rice, if you are like my friend and not cause metabolic havoc to your body?
That is the question. And I love a challenge.
Here is what you do:
And I have tested this by way of blood sugar analysis, by the way. So, this isn’t some theory.
First thing is:
You have to reduce the quantity of the minimally processed carb in your plate of food. So, your white rice or white pasta will constitute about 30% of the plate. An example will be 100 gm of white pasta.
Next you make up the rest of the plate with vegetables. A mixture of vegetables will do but a good 60% of the vegetables should be green leafy vegetables or cruciferous vegetables. If you are a meat-loving kind of person, you will need to have a small portion of meat, preferably white meat like chicken. Fish is fine too.
The reason you want a smaller portion of meat is because meat in itself is insulinogenic. You don’t want another food that will trigger the release of high levels of insulin. That’s exactly what we are trying to avoid with this trick.
The idea behind this technique is that the leafy or cruciferous vegetables will slow down the digestive process such that the glucose broken down from the white rice or white pasta is done in a gradually controlled manner.
This prevents a sudden rise of blood sugar and consequent sudden insulin spikes which is what normally happens with these foods. Refer to my diagrammatic explanation above again to understand the principle.
The other day my family and I went out for a restaurant meal and I still wanted to abide by the same principle, if I could. So, I chose Mushroom rice as my entrée.
What I was served was far from what I was expecting. You could count the mushroom pieces in the dish. Pathetic! See image below.
So, what vegetables can we use here to complement our minimally processed carb? Here is a list of vegetables you will need to consider:
There are lots more recipes like that but you get the idea.
3. Eat Carbs high in resistant starch Eating carbs high in resistant starch can actually assist in your weight loss efforts. Consider resistant starch as a prebiotic. It’s called resistant starch because it’s deliberately difficult for the body to digest.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, these foods with resistant starch derive their benefits by virtue of their resistance to digestion.
Resistant starch provides food for the gut bacteria. These bacteria in turn produce short chain fatty acids like butyric acid and propionic acid that have profound effect on both our colon health as well as overall health.
The net result is that eating resistant starch will provide you with benefits such as:
Boosting your immune system
Boosting cellular energy
Improved your mental focus
Aid weight loss by increasing fat burning and appetite regulation
Aid the digestive system by reducing bloating, gas production and relieve constipation.
Combat chronic inflammation
This is one of the best kept secrets of weight loss. All the talk about increasing fibre consumption revolves around this concept of resistant starch.
So, what carbohydrate foods are high in resistant starch?
Carbs high in resistant starch are all around you. You just need to pay special attention to them and incorporate them more into your diet portfolio.
Below is a small list of good carbs for weight loss mainly because they are foods high in resistant starch:
Minimally ripe bananas
Whole wheat pasta
Triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid)
Triticale is a newer grain that is particularly good for blood sugar control. In fact, triticale is one grain that diabetics should choose if they love their carbs.
as a micronutrient.
Triticale has a high manganese content as a micronutrient. Manganese is important in glucose metabolism in the liver tempering the process of gluconeogenesis. If you aren’t diabetic, even better.
Triticale is effective for weight control and your bowel health because of it’s extremely high fibre content of 19 gm per cup. How cool is that!
Another king of the resistant starch parade is bananas and plantains. Bananas just like plantains have a great deal of resistant starch. The only problem with bananas and plantains is that the resistant starch content diminishes with each passing day as they ripen.
What do I mean by that?
A large green banana (8 inch) for instance has about 21 gm of resistant starch. That same banana when it ripens fully (you know the ripe banana with the brown patches on the skin) has only 7 gm of resistant starch. That amount of resistant is still better than most foods but it is still a lot less compared to the green banana.
The morale of the story is to eat your bananas at the point they are beginning to ripen.
As you know, eating emerald green banana is probably not going to be a pleasant experience. I have actually tried eating emerald green bananas and can confirm doing so can be a little tricky.
It does stick a little bit to your teeth and gums which can be a little unsightly soon after you have finished eating. Of course, brushing your teeth can sort that out. The texture of the unripe banana is sort of wet-crispy which may be off-putting to a lot of people.
The taste of the green banana is not that far off the usual sweetness of a ripe banana. The green banana is just less sweet and that is where the nutritional advantage lies.
Green banana has a lower calorie content than a sweet one.
Here is one way of eating an unripe banana – make a smoothie with it. The green banana smoothie should hide any unpleasantness. Try out that this green banana smoothie recipe. It’s awesome!
As for green plantains, they can be eaten but preferably in the cooked form – boiled, steamed, grilled and baked. In the same vein, green plantains which are usually larger than bananas have twice as much resistant starch at a whopping 48 gm per green plantain.
I have not eaten raw green plantains personally. Could the smoothie route work for green plantains? Maybe.
Actually, the more I think about the green plantain resistant starch, the more tempting the green plantain smoothie gets.
This represents the ultimate cheat pathway to eating carbs and still lose weight or maintain your weight…because a lot of the carbs in green banana and green plantain are indigestible.
Chew on that for a moment (no pun intended).
How much resistant starch to aim for? Good idea to aim for about 30 gm a day of resistant starch. Preferably more. That’s when the benefits begin to add up.
And wait for it:
Even a simple short 3-day intervention with resistant starch led to:
“increased systemic levels of gut hormones involved in appetite regulation, metabolic control and maintenance of gut barrier function, as well as improved markers of glucose homoeostasis in middle-aged subjects, altogether relevant for the prevention of obesity and the metabolic syndrome”
Simple works every time, folks. It just does.
4. Add Turmeric to your carbs What sets turmeric apart from a lot of other spices is that it contains an active ingredient called curcumin.
Curcumin in turmeric seems to have neuroprotective property as it has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. So, using turmeric may protect you from conditions like Parkinson’s disease and new research seems to indicate turmeric may be good for depression.
Curcumin in turmeric has been compared to other spices for anti-inflammatory strength. Curcumin showed its power and potential in the “boxing ring of spices” as seen in the video below:
Not bad for a yellowish powder, huh. What we want to do however is exploit another property of turmeric – weight management and insulin sensitivity.
A 60-day course of curcumin (turmeric) given to 44 people affected by metabolic syndrome resulted in reduction of body fat, waistline reduction, hip circumference reduction and a drop in body mass index.
The conclusion from that study being that curcumin does have a positive influence on weight management.
One more thing:
For new fat cells to begin life, just like any other new cell in the body, they need to establish a rich blood supply for themselves. Without a decent blood supply, life for that cell is a non-starter.
When the fat cell is established, that rich blood supply must be maintained, otherwise the cell will perish.
Cue curcumin. Curcumin in turmeric has been shown to suppress the formation of that rich network of blood vessels (angiogenesis) that fat cells need to start a new life and grow.
Curcumin was also shown in this study to enhance oxidation of fat and decrease esterification of fatty acids.
Curcumin interacts with proteins in the liver, pancreas, muscle and fat cells modulating metabolic pathways.
With this action of curcumin inside the cell fuel machine, it does the following:
Reverses insulin resistance
Lowers blood sugar
Lowers blood lipid levels
Reduces other inflammatory symptoms associated with obesity and metabolic diseases
On this basis, the study authors recommended curcumin be included as part of a healthy diet, especially as it is safe and cheap.
This means turmeric should be part of your high carb diet plan. Just sprinkle it here and there and let it soak up glucose from the circulation when you consume high carb meals to lose weight.
5. Become a fan of Apple Cider Vinegar I love apple cider vinegar. Weird, I know.
I love it because it does my body a lot of good.
Apple cider vinegar is a by-product of apples (as if you didn’t know that already). Crushed apples are fermented to form alcohol from the fructose in the apples.
The process doesn’t end there. The alcohol is converted to acetic acid by merely adding bacteria. The acetic acid constitutes the main active agent in apple cider vinegar.
You have probably read about some of the claims of the health benefits of apple cider vinegar. A lot of it is unsubstantiated and we won’t go into that here.
I need to mention one thing though. Please do not use apple cider vinegar to whiten your teethor use it to remove dental plaques.
The only thing that will happen is the apple cider vinegar will facilitate the wearing of your enamel. You will be shaving your teeth away, literally, with time and predisposing you to form cavities. Not what you want. Wrong use, Bad advice!
Now where was I?
Yes, the reason why apple cider vinegar is good for your carb consumption. In particular, stopping you from gaining weight when you dose on your healthy carbs.
That keyword again “healthy carbs”. Never forget that.
If there’s one non-medicinal substance that has been subjected to numerous studies to test its effectiveness for control of blood sugar, it is apple cider vinegar.
The results have generally been consistent. It’s not a myth or some theory.
Apple cider vinegar is good for blood sugar control in healthy individuals, in diabetics and in individuals with pre-diabetes.
And you will be well within your human rights to exploit that.
Apple cider vinegar suppresses body fat. What happens when you expose obese Japanese people of similar body weight, BMI and waist circumference to a 12-week period of vinegar consumption having divided them into 3 groups for a study purpose.
Give one group a daily drink of vinegar containing 30 ml of apple cider vinegar, second group 15 ml and the 3rd group consuming 0 ml for the 12 weeks.
When body weight, BMI, visceral fat area, waist circumference, and serum triglyceride levels are measured after the 12-week period, the vinegar consuming groups had all 5 parameters lower than in the placebo group.
Vinegar is thought to affect the metabolism of glucose both in the liver and in the muscle long after food is consumed.
Any substance that positively influences metabolism of glucose in the liver and muscle is something you must welcome into your life. The liver and muscle cells are paramount locations to burn glucose.
Give people with type 2 diabetes a drink of vinegar at bedtime and check their blood sugar in the morning.
This small study showed that vinegar does reduce fasting blood glucose levels.
The study authors recommending that vinegar may be useful in type 2 diabetic individuals who experience the dawn phenomenon.
White bread is one carb we don’t like, right? There is no stopping vinegar because when experimented with white bread, vinegar seems to have a blood glucose lowering effect on white bread consumption.
Insulin sensitivity is something you should be craving to have any day. Can apple cider vinegar make you more insulin sensitive? Oh, yes, it can.
Cross-over study that recruited both type 2 diabetics and non-diabetics who were nonetheless insulin resistant.
Give them an unhealthy carbohydrate meal consisting of white bagel, orange juice and butter. Serve them 20 gm of apple cider vinegar and what do you get when you measure their insulin sensitivity?
You get as much as 34% increase in insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant individuals and a 19% improvement in insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics. This is with an unhealthy carb meal.
How cool is that?
Now you see why you should be including apple cider vinegar in your shopping list.
You certainly should include apple cider vinegar in your high carb diet plan. Apple cider vinegar is good for your carb heavy meals.
Apple cider vinegar will help you deal with glycaemic load when you have a carbohydrate heavy meal.
Apple cider vinegar will moderate your starch digestion whilst moderating your blood glucose. I don’t eat a carbohydrate heavy meal without my apple cider vinegar drink to accompany it. It’s regular practice for me
If you want to eat high carb to lose weight, well, I don’t know about you but for me it’s a no-brainer!
So, as you can see, you can eat healthy carbs without gaining weight. You just have to do it right. Employ one or two of these techniques and you can have carbs and still remain skinny…forever!
What are the benefits of eating dark chocolate? Is dark chocolate healthy? Is dark chocolate bad for you?
These are some of the questions that bug a lot of health-conscious people all the time. Millions and millions of people love chocolate. Fewer millions love dark chocolate though. Chocolate to most people is an indulgence and why not.
Why do we love chocolates? Lots more people love chocolate overall because it is very tasty and the creamy texture gives a vibrancy and joy that is difficult to match. Cool!
And the reason fewer people indulge in dark chocolate is because it’s not as tasty as the non-dark regular chocolate types.
Oh yes, palatability is the difference. A good dark chocolate is nowhere as palatable as say, milk chocolate or chocolate syrup.
Chocolate is made from cacao. Cacao is bitter. Cacao may be bitter but there is some fullness to the bitterness. A kind of bitterness that is welcoming and robust rather than off-putting.
Some people will argue that it is an acquired taste, hence they would rather lean towards the tastier more palatable end of the chocolate spectrum.
What these people don’t realise is that those tastier varieties of chocolate have very little to offer in the way of nutrition. They offer empty calories as opposed to nourishing your body. Mainly because these tastier brands are packed full of sugar, dairy and preservatives.
Dark chocolate on the other hand is different. Not all dark chocolates are wholesome though. Some have been padded with lots of sugar and dairy, thereby altering their nutritional profile.
For instance, the picture below is a dark chocolate but look at the sugar content. It’s got 41.5 gm of sugar per 100 gm of the chocolate bar. That’s a high level of sugar. It’s not the type you want to be eating.
Chocolate manufacturers are keen to make their product appealing to taste buds. How do they go about that? They have to add sugar to cancel out the bitterness of the cacao mass.
What are cocoa solids?
Wondering what constitutes the cocoa solids…
Well, the cocoa solids is the combination of the cocoa mass and cocoa butter.
The cocoa mass is what gives the chocolate its fruity flavour. The cocoa mass is where the bio-active compounds that confer the dark chocolate benefits reside. The cocoa butter on the other hand is what makes the chocolate to melt excellently and seamlessly in your mouth.
This marriage between the cocoa mass and cocoa butter produces the semisweet or the more nuanced bittersweet chocolate aromas that chocoholics have come to love, the world over.
What dark chocolate is healthy?
As you may have noticed in the earlier part of this article, I have emphasized that dark chocolate is healthier than other forms of chocolate. However, not all dark chocolates may be considered healthy like the example above. It all depends on the amount of cocoa solids or cocoa mass specifically in the dark chocolate.
In response to the question; what dark chocolate is healthy, the answer is; the dark chocolate with highest amount of cocoa solids. The higher the cocoa solids in the dark chocolate, the healthier it is.
For the most part, you want to eat the dark chocolate that has a high content of cocoa solids. The cocoa solids represent the amount of cacao in that bar of dark chocolate.
The more cocoa solids you have in the dark chocolate the better. The cocoa solid amount is reflected in the percentage of dark chocolate you see on the pack.
In essence, you should be aiming for at least 70% dark chocolate. Personally, I would recommend you go for 90% dark chocolate or even higher. It might not be as tasty but it will give you more of the benefits I am going to talk about here.
Generally speaking, the higher the cocoa solid content, the less sugar you have in the bar. See image below. It’s 90% dark chocolate but see how much sugar in 100 gm of the chocolate bar – 7.0 gm. Now, we are talking. Compare that to the previous dark chocolate brand.
The bio-active compounds in dark chocolate are in the cocoa solids, NOT in the milk or sugar in your chocolate bar.
The reason I’m saying is this because biochemically speaking, dark chocolate is good for your health but milk chocolate, white chocolate and chocolate syrup are bad for your health.
Let me repeat that, dark chocolate is not bad for your health but you need to eat the right dark chocolate to get the health benefits.
And oh, some supplement companies now make and sell chocolate extracts. It is thought that these chocolate extracts are just as effective as dark chocolate.
That may be true but I would rather have the dark chocolate or cacao powder than pop some chocolate extract pill.
Why is dark chocolate good for your health?
Is dark chocolate good for your health? Well, yes it is. Dark chocolate is actually good and beneficial to our health.
The basis of the advantages or benefits of eating dark chocolate stems from 3 reasons:
A high level of anti-oxidants
Improved blood flow
Supply of brain foods
Dark chocolate is made from cacao which is harvested from a plant called Theobroma cacao. Cacao is one of the best sources of antioxidants out there. The antioxidants in cacao and by extension dark chocolate aren’t exclusive to cacao though.
Green tea for instance has antioxidants but the sheer amount of antioxidants in cacao cannot be matched by any other plant source.
The antioxidants in dark chocolate (as in cacao) are flavanols and polyphenols. The polyphenols are procyanidins and epicatechins.
These flavanols, epicatechins and procyanidins have the potential to increase blood flow throughout the body. Improved blood flow especially to the heart and brain has significant advantages which I will discuss later in this article.
The presence of brain foods like Phenylethylamine, Anandamide and Tryptophan in dark chocolate has implications for nerve function, energy levels, alertness and mood levels. Phenylethylamine (PEA) activity in the brain is one of the most exploited advantages of dark chocolate.
Most of the benefits you get from eating dark chocolate spring from those 3 reasons above.
What are the benefits of eating dark chocolate?
I have already mentioned that dark chocolates aren’t bad for your health, so long as you eat the right ones. So, what kind of benefits can you get from eating dark chocolates
Dark chocolate may prevent premature ageing We are all going to age. No doubt about that.
But what you don’t want is accelerated aging. The free radical biology theory postulates that Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) is a culpable factor in the ageing process.
As it happens, we produce these ROS also called free radicals inevitably from our respiratory metabolic process. But, these oxygen free radicals aren’t benign. They are toxic to cells causing cellular damage and cellular dysfunction.
The metabolic processes producing these free radicals is an on-going process, not an event. It is thought that the cumulative damage is what partly leads to aging.
Having an antidote to these oxygen free radicals will therefore slow down the aging process. Antidote to these free radicals are antioxidants. Dark chocolate provides you with ammunition in radical fighting because of its high antioxidant levels.
By virtue of fighting oxidative stress, dark chocolate could be helping to dampen down inflammation in the body which is a bonus in itself.
Hence consumption of dark chocolate could help with premature aging through prevention of cellular damage from these free oxygen radicals.
2. Dark chocolate helps with mood issues – blues and depression
One of the commonest reasons people eat dark chocolate is to alter their mood.
Could be simple blues (low mood) or frank depression. Lots of people see dark chocolate as a natural anti-depressant. But is the perceived thought that dark chocolate is good for depression and anxiety actually true or is it a myth?
Dark chocolate has lots of natural phytochemicals in it. These phytochemicals have profound effects in the brain; but the two phytochemicals in dark chocolate worth mentioning are Phenylethylamine (PEA) and Anandamide.
Anandamide has been labelled the “bliss molecule”.
Anandamide is a fatty neurotransmitter in the brain. This molecule has its name derived from a Sanskrit word, Ananda. Ananda means “joy, happiness, delight”.
Anandamide binds to the same receptor that marijuana binds to in the brain. Once anandamide binds to the marijuana receptor (tetrahydrocannabinol receptor), it triggers a chemical reaction that makes the user “feel high”.
You won’t get the same type of “high” you get with when you smoke marijuana, but your mood will be lifted.
Phenylethylamine (PEA) is the other molecule in dark chocolate worth talking about. Dark chocolate is made from cacao. The process of microbial fermentation of the cacao beans produces the phenylethylamine.
Phenylethylamine has also been labelled the “love drug” because of its potential to produce a feeling of being in love and its ability to arguably act as an aphrodisiac.
Phenylethylamine is the reason people see dark chocolate as an aphrodisiac. But there could be another explanation for dark chocolate stimulating sexual desire. Dark chocolate does cause an increase in blood flow to sexual organs as part of its global effect, for reasons I will explain shortly.
Phenylethylamine (PEA) at moderate levels is proven as a mood elevator. Dark chocolate contains phenylethylamine and it is one of the reason dark chocolate lifts your mood and makes you feel euphoric.
In fact, Phenylethylamine as a substance is now being marketed as a stand-alone supplement and they appear to be claiming 60% success rates in treating clinical depression.
Sometimes phenylethylamine (PEA) extract is used in conjunction with a conventional antidepressant for a synergistic effect for resistant cases of depression.
Whether the amount of phenylethylamine in dark chocolate is high enough to match that in a PEA extract with a view to getting similar anti-depression results, is difficult to say.
Does dark chocolate contain tryptophan?
A friend asked me the other day, if dark chocolate does contain tryptophan. Yes, dark chocolate contains tryptophan. Tryptophan facilitates serotonin production which is a vital neuronal transmitter – another mechanism by which dark chocolate alleviates low mood or frank depression.
If you combine all the activities of these substances in the brain, it is no surprise that some of us will consider dark chocolate as brain food.
3. Dark chocolate may help with Anxiety
Given the fact that dark chocolate is seen as brain food, could it help with anxiety?
A study carried out over a 2-week period using 74% dark chocolate seems to suggest that dark chocolate may ease anxiety.
Participants in the study were given 40 gm of dark chocolate every day for the 2 weeks. The participants were split up into high anxiety group and low anxiety group using validated psychology questionnaires.
The researchers found that the high anxiety group reported feeling less anxious. Further confirmation of their anxiety relief was the fact that this high anxiety group has significantly less stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline during the study period.
The study seems to suggest that the more severe your anxiety problem is, the more you are likely to respond to dark chocolate as a treatment for anxiety.
That dark chocolate may be good for anxiety control is shown in this animal experiment using substances similar to anandamide found in dark chocolate.
Whilst the flavanols and polyphenols in dark chocolate are protecting your nerve cells in the brain from oxidative stress and oxidative damage, these adjoining chemicals like anandamide promote new nerve formation resulting in anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects.
4. Dark chocolate is good for fatigue and concentration
The phenylethylamine in dark chocolate is behaves similar to amphetamines. It is a stimulant. We have also established that anandamide in dark chocolate attaches to the same receptor that cannabis active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) attaches to.
Once attached, it sets off a chain of events that are stimulatory to the brain. With phenylethylamine increasing the speed of transmission between brain cells, it is not surprising that you can fight fatigue and stay alert by eating dark chocolate.
Your concentration level goes up with dark chocolate because, you have all of these chemical activities going on in your brain.
In addition to that, dark chocolate also contains theobromine. Theobromine is a xanthine molecule with a weak stimulatory effect.
The combined effects of theobromine, anandamide and phenylethylamine in dark chocolate eliminates fatigue, giving you high energy whilst boosting your attention and concentration levels at the same time.
5. Dark chocolate good for cognitive performance
As we age, more brain cells become inflamed and degenerate. Our ability to make new neurons (brain cells) also diminish. That’s one explanation as to why we experience cognitive decline as we get older.
So, if you could have a substance that has the potential to reduce the inflammation and promote new brain cell formation (neurogenesis), then of course, you have yourself a winner.
It so happens that the antioxidants in dark chocolate can stem the inflammation and anandamide can help with neurogenesis.
The implication is that dark chocolate may help preserve cognitive abilities; possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease. As stated above, phenylethylamine is known to increase the speed of communication between nerve cells in the brain. Therefore, when you eat dark chocolate you boost focus plus you have the stimulatory effect of anandamide and theobromine.
This will make you become more alert, but does dark chocolate promote better cognitive function? This is a bit hit or miss. At least according to studies. There are conflicting outcomes from many studies regarding dark chocolate boosting cognitive function.
This study on post menopausal women using different concentrations of cocoa flavanols did not show any improvement in cognitive performance.
This one showed initial promise but the improvement in cognitive function by cocoa flavanols was blunted by exercise meaning exercise was just as effective.
However, I like this study that recruited 90 elderly participants giving them high, medium and low concentrations of cocoa flavanol drinks over an 8-week period.
There was significant improvement in cognitive performance with the cocoa flavanol drink. Something else noticeable in that study was, the higher the concentration of the cocoa drink, the better the cognitive outcome.
Whether the mental assessments tests were too rigorous for study participants in some of the studies that failed to demonstrate cognitive improvements is difficult to say. But there is good grounds to suggest that higher concentrations of dark chocolate may improve memory and cognition.
6. Dark chocolate a good source of magnesium
You need magnesium for a host of functions in the body. You need magnesium for nerve and muscle function.
Magnesium supports your immune system and provides support for bone metabolism too.
Dark chocolate is a rich source of magnesium. Consuming dark chocolate means you will be supporting all of those functions involving magnesium.
If you have muscular tension and feeling stressed out, having a bar of dark chocolate may help ease your tension.
7. Dark chocolate facilitates nitric oxide production and good for blood pressure
One recurring question I get asked is; is dark chocolate good for blood pressure or does dark chocolate lower blood pressure?
Turns out dark chocolate is good for blood pressure support. There are quite a number of studies to support the view that dark chocolate can help with blood pressure control (hypertension).
And you know what; you don’t even need a lot of dark chocolate to start getting the benefits of lower blood pressure. This study was one of the earlier studies that established the link between blood pressure and dark chocolate.
You only need 30 Calories of dark chocolate per day to get the blood pressure lowering benefits according to that study.
So, why does dark chocolate lower blood pressure? Answer: Nitric oxide. Yes, nitric oxide is the sole reason.
Nitric oxide is a substance that was the subject of a Nobel Prize for science in 1998. Nitric oxide is a potent smooth muscle relaxant, in particular the muscles of the blood vessels.
Abundance of nitric oxide encourages blood to flow smoothly within the vessel. This facilitates a rich supply of oxygen and nutrients to various cells and tissues.
In every study carried out involving either cacao or its derivative, dark chocolate, there was never any circumstance where blood flow wasn’t increased. There was consistency across the board that cacao and dark chocolate improves arterial function by widening the lumen.
This proves the power of cacao and dark chocolate as an agent that is good for circulation and circulatory diseases.
The average flow diameter within the blood vessel was widened by drinking a cacao drink.
What does this mean?
It means you can expect the global blood pressure to be on the low side. Dark chocolate helps lower blood pressure.
This study on 32 sleep-deprived individuals showed a reduction in blood pressure after being fed flavanol-rich dark chocolate.
Incidentally in that study the dark chocolate preserved and restored working memory in these sleep deprived participants.
This meta-analysis of 13 studies concluded that dark chocolate was superior to placebo in lowering blood pressure.
Lower blood pressure obtained from eating dark chocolate has associated benefits.
Dark chocolate is good for heart health
Dark chocolate is good for circulatory diseases
Dark chocolate is good for stroke prevention
Dark chocolate is good for heart attack prevention
8. Dark chocolate is beneficial to cholesterol Dark chocolate seems to confer a favourable cholesterol profile based on studies.
This meta-analysis looked at 10 clinical trials involving 320 individuals with study period spanning between 2 and 12 weeks using dark chocolate as the product.
In that meta-analysis, dark chocolate reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) but no significant effect on HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) was seen.
Another study however found that cacao consumption produced a rise in HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) whilst reducing bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).
The thinking is that the polyphenols antioxidants in the cacao or dark chocolate is responsible for the reduction in bad cholesterol.
A reduction in bad cholesterol is beneficial to the body. This finding supports the view that dark chocolate consumption helps lower your risk of stroke and heart attacks.
9. Dark chocolate may promote insulin sensitivity
We have established that the flavonoids and polyphenols in dark chocolate are useful weapons in the fight against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has also been implicated in the origin of type 2 diabetes. So, dark chocolate would be a good fit in managing type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
This review supports the view that the antioxidants in dark chocolate enhance insulin secretion and promote insulin sensitivity in peripheral tissues.
This piece talks about how the behaviour of the cells lining your blood vessels contribute immensely to the chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
If you can fix the malfunctioning of the cells lining the blood vessel wall (endothelium it is called) with flavanols in cacao and dark chocolate, you can see improvement in key markers of metabolic syndrome including insulin sensitivity and blood pressure.
There is more support here for the vessel wall relationship with insulin resistance. Malfunctioning of the endothelium (cells of the blood vessel wall) points to insulin resistance.
Flavonoids in cacao and dark chocolate can lower blood sugar through improved insulin sensitivity by correcting the malfunctioning of the endothelium. That review goes ahead to suggest that cacao or dark chocolate may help halt the progression of type 2 diabetes and overcoming insulin resistance in metabolic syndrome.
At this point I need to give a warning here especially when it comes to blood sugar control of diabetes and prediabetes using dark chocolate.
You have to be careful because a lot of the dark chocolates come pre-loaded with sugar which of course can make your diabetes worse.
In a sense, a dark chocolate that has a lot of sugar in it like the one with 41.5 gm of sugar in a 100-gm dark chocolate bar is the type you must avoid.
That type of dark chocolate would make your diabetic sugar control worse. The benefits of improving insulin sensitivity will be cancelled out by such a heavy sugar content. Always read the label.
As you can tell, dark chocolate is a derivative of cacao, one of natures best gifts to us. We can exploit it to our advantage. There are other health benefits of dark chocolate like skin protection from UV damage, the availability of iron needed for red cell production in the body.
Problem is; chocolate manufacturers who in a desperate attempt to make their product appealing and to compete favourably in the marketplace, will keep upping the sugar content in their dark chocolate products.
The net result is the calorie content of the dark chocolate keeps going up and up. The point is dark chocolate is a calorie-dense food. It is not a product to pig on. You may have to sweat it out in the gym afterwards if you gorge on it in excess.
Be sensible. Read the label. The less the sugar content in your dark chocolate the better. That’s why I would advise going for 90% or higher to actually get these benefits.
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