Good news for chocoholics: starting the day with your favourite sweet treat may have unexpected health benefits.
When enjoyed in moderation, dark chocolate is known to contain heart-healthy antioxidants.
Scientists from the University of Murcia in Spain have now found eating milk chocolate first thing may help postmenopausal women stay slim.
The team had 19 women, average age 52, eat 100g of milk chocolate within an hour of waking or before bed for two weeks.
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Although neither group gained weight, only morning chocolate was linked to increased fat burning, likely due to a "decreased hunger and desire for sweets" throughout the day.
It's not just what you eat, but when you eat, with "food timing a relevant factor in weight control", the scientists wrote in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology journal.
The timing of our meals is known to affect our body clock.
Eating a sugary high-calorie snack, like chocolate, in the evening or morning is said to have varying effects on the "clocks of different organs and tissues, and consequently on body weight and metabolism".
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The health pros and cons of chocolate have long been debated, with most studies focusing on dark varieties.
"Milk chocolate has a name for contributing to weight gain due to its high fat, sugar and caloric content," wrote the scientists.
This variety "is still the basis of most popular candy bars and sweet treats".
Aside from the chocolate, the 19 women ate as normal throughout the rest of the day.
The morning chocolate eaters consumed around 300 fewer calories after adding the sweet treat to their diet, while the evening group cut 150kcal off their daily intake.
This "did not fully compensate for the extra energy contribution of chocolate", which added 542 calories every day.
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"Our findings highlight not only 'what' but also 'when' we eat can impact physiological mechanisms involved in the regulation of body weight," said study author Dr Frank Scheer, from Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"Our volunteers did not gain weight despite increasing caloric intake.
"Our results show chocolate reduced energy intake, consistent with the observed reduction in hunger, appetite and the desire for sweets shown in previous studies."
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The evening chocolate eaters increased their exercise levels by 6.9%, the results show.
Although the morning group did not become more active, their waist circumference reduced by 1.7%, while their blood sugar levels dropped by 4.4%.
"In conclusion, having chocolate in the morning or in the evening/night results in differential effects on hunger and appetite", wrote the scientists
"Results highlight that when we eat is a relevant factor to consider in energy balance and metabolism".
The scientists have stressed larger studies, with a more diverse group of participants, are required.
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