Healthy, weight-supportive chocolate cake for breakfast? Me, please!
According to a research article making the rounds on social media in recent weeks, not only can we have our chocolate cake (for breakfast!) and eat it, too, in so doing, it would appear that we can expect to not only shed unwanted pounds, but improve our cognition as well.
As avid a chocoholic as I am, I’m sorry, but I have to take exception to this unqualified pronouncement. While it is certainly true that good quality dark chocolate has significant quantities of research supporting its potential benefits to our health, including weight optimization and improvements to our mental faculties, quality and quantity count. For instance, in your opinion, would your body respond equally well to these two chocolate-y items?
A POPULAR MAINSTREAM CHOCOLATE CAKE
Ingredients: Sugar, wheat flour, margarine [vegetable oil, water, salt, milk solids, emulsifiers (vegetable – 471, 472c), natural flavour, natural colour (carotene)], egg, water, fondant (sucrose, glucose), butter, cocoa, dark chocolate, glucose syrup, whey powder, raising agents (450, sodium bicarbonate), emulsifiers (vegetable – 471, 475, 477), salt, natural vanilla flavour, citric acid. Cocoa solids: 6%
ONE OF MY FAVOURITE ORGANIC DARK CHOCOLATE BARS
Ingredients: Cacao beans, unrefined cane sugar, cacao butter, vanilla bean, sea salt.
I really hope you are thinking something in the ballpark of “Highly doubtful” to “Heck, no!” While I can appreciate the argument that we can all expect to lose weight by reducing the consumption of excess calories (which many find easier to do if they actually take pleasure in what they are eating), let’s please not confuse weight loss with health. While the two things certainly can go hand in hand, they don’t always. If someone only consumed diet soda for one week, they could expect to lose a significant quantity of weight, but would that be healthy? Personally, I would struggle to think of a situation where it would be.
Another thing to keep in mind when assessing the merit of articles discussing promising research is that good journalists have a skill for crafting brilliant taglines. While ingenious and largely accurate, these attention-grabbing headlines rarely tell the full story. The trouble is, many people don’t read full articles. They simply run with the information garnered from the headline—which could be misleading if taken out of context of the full article.
In the case of Shared.com’s, “Research Shows That Eating Chocolate Cake For Breakfast Is Good For The Brain And The Waistline,” if we read the full article, we will see that, based on the results of the study being cited, researchers deemed it important to eat chocolate cake before 9 o’clock in the morning. It was also specifically found that individuals who eat protein, carbohydrates, and a 600 calorie dessert for an early breakfast tend to lose more weight than those who ate a 300 calorie breakfast at a later time.
So what else did we just learn? Timing counts, as does what else we eat with our breakfast dessert. As such, as much as we might want to, we can’t simply state that chocolate cake for breakfast will yield the desired benefits to our weight and mental aptitude. Not if we wish to be factually accurate.
As appealing as it might be to trust the information that we gain from popular (as opposed to scientific) articles, it is always worth doing our due diligence and seeing if we can corroborate the claims being made with reputable scientific research. In some cases, everything will check out. In other cases, the information found in popular journals might seem so different from the research it was supposedly based on that we might wonder how the science could ever have been interpreted in the way that it was. In still other cases, phrasing might be deceptive and lead us to inaccurate conclusions. For instance, when I read Shared.com's statement that, "People who eat protein, carbohydrates, and a 600 cal dessert tend to lose more weight than those who ate a 300 cal breakfast at a later time," I interpreted this to mean that participants who ate a 600 calorie dessert plus protein and carbohydrates tend to lose more weight than people who ate a 300 calorie breakfast later in the day. Sadly, this is an inaccurate interpretation. What the researchers at Tel Aviv University actually found was that, in a study of nearly 200 clinically obese, non-diabetic adults, a 600-calorie breakfast that includes dessert, as well as proteins and carbohydrates, can help dieters lose weight and keep it off over the long term. While I choose to believe that Shared.com didn't deliberately mislead their readers, this is a perfect example of why we can't take information at face value--even when we might really want to.
For anyone who is curious, there are multiple reasons why adding a controlled portion of dessert to our breakfast can support weight management. These reasons can be summed up by three words: cravings, deprivation, and satiation.
One of the reasons so many dieters fail in their attempt to lose weight is that their restrictive diets leave them feeling deprived. This can have a huge mental-emotional impact on people, particularly those who have struggled with disordered eating.
One frequent consequence of deprivation is cravings. Even if we know that we "shouldn't" eat something, it seems to be human nature to want what we can't have. The simple fact that we aren't supposed to eat something often makes us want it all the more, thus making it harder to avoid. Go figure.
By allowing ourselves to indulge in moderate portions of dessert (which many of us have been raised to associate with love, nurturing, and celebration), we change the dieting script. No longer are we bereft and bored with our diet. Rather, the pleasure that we find in enjoying some of our favourite treats makes it far easier for many to eat healthy foods, such as lean proteins and vegetables, which might at first seem bland and unappetizing. Not feeling overwhelmed by a constant feeling of deprivation can go a long way towards promoting a willingness to eat more healthful foods.
Another reason why eating dessert as part of our pre-9 am breakfast can support the maintenance of a healthy weight is that, according to Prof. Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Diabetes Unit at Wolfson Medical Center, breakfast is the meal that most successfully regulates ghrelin, the hormone that increases hunger. Although the level of ghrelin rises before every meal, it is suppressed most effectively at breakfast time. As such, eating a substantial breakfast with an appropriate mix of macronutrients (i.e. proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) can go a long way towards moderating both our appetite and our cravings throughout the day.
After analyzing the research, I am of the firm opinion that desserts can be a component of a healthy, balanced diet. That said, if we want to be healthy and not just shed unwanted pounds, we need to be conscientious of the ingredients in our desserts, as well as the foods we are consuming alongside them. A few squares of organic dark chocolate with a veggie-filled omelette (with little to no cheese, ideally) is a far better breakfast option than a big slice of conventional chocolate cake with a side of bacon and white toast. Quality counts. While we might be able to lose weight by eating desserts filled with refined sugar, hydrogenated oils (i.e. trans fats), food colouring, etc. if we cut calories enough, is doing so really worth the potential cost to our health? I say, "No." Let's take care of our bodies. They are the only place we have to live.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. (2012, February 7). New diet: Top off breakfast with -- chocolate cake?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120207133750.htm
Shank, Tim. (2018, February 21). Research shows that eating chocolate cake for breakfast is good for the brain and the waistline featured on Shared.com [Blog post]. Retrieved https://www.shared.com/i/tipsforhome/research-shows-that-eating-chocolate-cake-for-breakfast-is-good-for-the-brain-and-the-waistline/?utm_source=homemakingtips&utm_medium=influencer