It’s fall. That means I can walk into Walmart and see Halloween, Thanksgiving, AND Christmas decorations all on sale at the same time. What that also means is that a lot of people are thinking about losing a few pounds before adding them back on during the holidays.

One of the first places people look to cut calories is with those sweets we all crave. Honestly, that’s a great place to start. But sometimes, dessert is not the worst place in our diets. (Think, that bag of chips you snack on every afternoon). And what if I told you there were a way to satisfy that sweet tooth without ruining your diet? There is… Dark Chocolate!

dark-chocolateYou may have heard that dark chocolate has some great benefits. It’s true, it does! Besides the fact that it’s chocolate so it tastes great, it also has two big potential effects for the endurance athlete, or anyone looking to keep their diet in check.

  1. Lower Cholesterol 

Dark chocolate has been shown to both increase good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol. Now, as an endurance athlete in their 20’s, I couldn’t care less about my cholesterol. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever had mine checked and I only vaguely remember touching on the subject in college once. What I do know is that lower cholesterol is good and it decreases the risk of heart disease. So if this is an issue for you, and you still want to satisfy that sweet tooth, go ahead… eat chocolate.

  1. Higher Nitric Oxide

Here is the big payoff for endurance athletes. Dark chocolate has a higher level of an antioxidant, nitric oxide, that has been shown to help relax blood vessels causing them to dilate. This not only leads to lower blood pressure, but also to a lower amount of oxygen that your muscles need while working. Both of those are great side effects! Athletes have long been using beet juice to get more nitric oxide, and it seems that dark chocolate can do the same thing. I don’t know about you, but chocolate sounds better than beet juice. So, go ahead… eat chocolate!

Now, it needs to be stated that these are both side effects of cocoa, the bean that is used to make chocolate. While a plain old milk chocolate bar may produce these results to some extent, it is the extra sugar in milk chocolate that will ruin your diet. Dark chocolate doesn’t contain as much sugar which is why it has that characteristic bitter taste. IT also has a higher concentration of cocoa per service so that give you more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.

Another point that you will hear me make frequently is “everything in moderation.” This goes for your chocolate too. I would stick with the recommended serving size here (I usually think serving sizes are bogus, to be honest). A serving is 40 grams. That’s 1.45oz. That’s 5 of those little blocks in one normal Hershey’s Special Dark bar (or 9 special dark kisses). Also, adding this to the bowl of chocolate ice cream also won’t help you either.

At the end of the day, moderation is key, but don’t be afraid to indulge that sweet tooth a little. Go ahead… eat (dark) chocolate!

What are your hardest struggles in your every day diet? Could adding a bit of freedom help you reach your goals? Let me know in the comments on on twitter!