Cocoa may help fend off obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes according to new research published online in the European Journal of Nutrition.
Scientists at Penn State University, led by Professor Joshua Lambert, studied obese male mice to find out the effect cocoa powder had on markers of inflammation that can lead to type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease .
Lambert explained that while chocolate is high in fat, high in sugar and is usually considered an indulgence, cocoa powder is low in fat and low in sugar.
“We looked at cocoa because it contains a lot of polyphenolic compounds, so it is analogous to things like green tea and wine, which researchers have been studying for some of their health benefits,” he said.
For the study, the mice were fed either a low or high-fat diet for 18 weeks. After eight weeks some mice in the high-fat group had their diet supplemented with 8% cocoa powder – the human equivalent of 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder, or four or five cups of hot cocoa.
After analysing blood and tissue samples, the researchers found that several indicators of inflammation and type 2 diabetes were much lower in the mice fed the high-fat diet with the cocoa supplement than in the non-cocoa group. In fact, the indicators for the cocoa group were almost identical to the ones found in the control group fed a low-fat diet.
Levels of plasma insulin and triglycerides in the cocoa supplement group were 27% and 32% lower, respectively, compared to those not fed cocoa, while the researchers also noted a slight, but significant, drop in body weight gain.
“What surprised me was the magnitude of the effect,” Lambert said. “There wasn’t as big an effect on body weight as we expected, but I was surprised at the dramatic reduction of inflammation and fatty liver disease.”
The scientists said further studies need to be conducted to better understand why cocoa powder is effective in treating inflammation and to see if the latest findings can be replicated in human trials.

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