A few pieces of dark chocolate as soon as you wake up are a real scented and tasty treat, but also healthy. In fact, the intake of a small portion of chocolate, preferably dark, in the morning, helps to regulate our internal clock, often put to the test by jet lag and work shifts, helps to control body weight, reduces the waist circumference and improves mood. This emerges from a scientific research published in the prestigious Scientific Reports journal of the Nature group by a Mexican team and supported by a very recent review published in the Nutrients journal thanks to the work of an Italian team from the Universities of Genoa and Milan Bicocca (Escobar et al, Scientific Reports, 2020 - Garbarino et al, Nutrients, 2022).
Alterations to our internal clock, causes and consequences
We run, struggle, have late commitments and often work night shifts, but we are also subjected to jet lag when we travel or when we experience clocks change, such as the switching between summer and winter time. All this alters our internal clock, which determines the sleep-wake cycle, the release of hormones, appetite and metabolism. An alteration of our internal clock, called the circadian rhythm, can cause insomnia, anxiety, depression but also, in the long run, weight gain, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, or even cellular degeneration. As mentioned, however, sometimes it is work and society that require these disruptions of natural rhythms and therefore we have no way of changing these factors. However, we can take steps to protect ourselves and resynchronize our biological clock quickly. An example? Well… by eating dark chocolate for breakfast.
Dark chocolate for breakfast and the resynchronization of the circadian rhythm
The study published in Scientific Reports tested the action of 5 grams of chocolate on a population of rats subjected to jet lag, shifting all activities by 6 hours. The chocolate was administered to part of the rats immediately at the beginning of the waking period and to a part at the end of the waking period. A part, on the other hand, did not take chocolate and was kept as a control. Well, those who had taken chocolate at the beginning of the waking period were able to restore the rhythms of their internal clock within 3 days compared to 7 days for those who had not taken chocolate. Instead, the rats that had taken chocolate at the end of the waking period were unable, in the time of the experiment, to restore circadian rhythms. Not only that, the intake of chocolate at the beginning of the waking period even made it possible to reduce body weight while, when chocolate was taken at the end of the waking period, it led to weight gain. Therefore, if taken at the beginning of the day, chocolate has been able to stimulate the metabolism and synchronization of the biological clock.
The benefits of dark chocolate
The second research is a review and has collected all the studies done so far on the role of chocolate on the circadian rhythm and on health in general. This review was able to add elements to the first study we talked about today. In particular, the importance of choosing dark chocolate is emphasized. The chocolate should be taken, in the case of us humans who live during the day, in the morning. Then, there is no need to exceed the dose, but modest quantities of chocolate are sufficient to have benefits. Studies do not go into detail on the amount of chocolate to consume, generally indicating that small amounts are recommended, probably around 20-30 grams. The mechanisms of action of chocolate on our internal clock are still not clear, but it is believed that its intake stimulates metabolism, energy production, blood circulation and, also thanks to its palatability, the activation of brain areas, which regulate circadian rhythms, such as the hypothalamus. Finally, taking dark chocolate counteracts anxiety, improves cognitive function, reduces blood pressure and, if taken in the morning, reduces the waist circumference.