August 28, 2011

Sweet Treats May Not Derail Your Diet


Good news for dieters with a sweet tooth--adding a little bit of chocolate or another small, sugary snack to an otherwise healthy diet might not hurt you in your quest to lose weight, according to a new study published in this month's edition of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The paper, "A Reduced-Calorie Dietary Pattern Including a Daily Sweet Snack Promotes Body Weight Reduction and Body Composition Improvements in Premenopausal Women Who Are Overweight and Obese: A Pilot Study," was written by a team of doctors and dieticians, including Kathryn E. Piehowski, Amy G. Preston, Debra L. Miller, and Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson.

"Reduced-calorie diets are difficult to follow because they often require elimination of certain foods, leading to poor compliance and limited success," the study's abstract says. "However, a low-calorie, nutrient-dense diet has the potential to accommodate a daily snack without exceeding energy requirements, even during weight loss."

"This pilot study evaluated the effects of a reduced-calorie diet including either a daily dark chocolate snack or a non-chocolate snack on anthropometric and body composition measurements," the authors added, noting that their randomized clinical trial of 26 women proved that "improvements in anthropometric and body composition measurements among overweight and obese premenopausal women can be achieved with a reduced-calorie diet including either a daily dark chocolate snack or non-chocolate snack."

Don't reach for that candy bar just yet, however.

According to Reuters reporter Genevra Pittman, "The study was funded by Hershey's, which provided its own candy for snacks, and two of the study authors are company employees."

Furthermore, Pittman writes, "An outside researcher cautioned that the study had no 'control' group of women who didn't eat a sweet snack, so it's impossible to know how much weight those who abstained from sweets, or ate other snacks, would have lost."

The 26 women who participated were all premenopausal and had body mass index (BMI) ratings between 25 and 43, Reuters reports. All of them attended weekly nutrition sessions and were placed on 1,500 to 1,800 calorie diets based on food exchanges and portion sizes.

Half of them were allowed to eat small, dark chocolate snacks twice per day, as well as sugar-free cocoa for breakfast. The others had a non-chocolate sugar-free drink in the morning and fruit-flavored licorice instead of the chocolate. At the end of the four-month study, women in each group lost an average of 11 pounds, whether they consumed the chocolate or not.

"Women think about going on a diet and think they have to deprive themselves of their favorite foods, but really that's not the case if you incorporate them in a portion-controlled way," Piehowski, who was employed by Pennsylvania State University when she worked on the study, told Reuters.

"I think allowing snacks and allowing sweets and a reward for exercising or a reward for sticking to your healthy foods is good," Debra Keast, from Food & Nutrition Database Research Inc., who was not involved in the new study, told Pittman. "But I think there are probably other foods that might be more satiating to eat between meals, if the objective is to hold you over to the next meal so you're not feeling so hungry that you have to gorge when you actually sit down to eat."


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