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Could Cacao Help You Lose Weight?

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When you’re planning a diet or a shred you’ll have a picture in your mind of how you want to look. You’ve also got an idea of the workout you’ll follow and the foods that you know you can and can’t eat

It can be difficult to think of chocolate as being a weight loss product. It is often high in calories, fat and sugar and at best is an occasional treat. But cacao nibs, a product derived from the cocoa bean – might well be worth adding to your recomposition diet.

In this article we’ll tell you all you need to know about this food, and why cacao might be the secret to weight loss.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is cacao?
  • What are the health benefits?
  • The science – what does research say about cacao and weight loss?

What is Cacao?

Cacao is a pure form of chocolate that comes from the Theobroma Cacao tree. It has many subtle differences to the more well-known cocoa. It is a raw product that hasn’t been roasted like cocoa has.

The nibs of the tree are a product derived from the cocoa plant. During industrial processing, a process called winnowing is used to remove the outer shell of the cocoa bean. This process results in chocolate and left over cotyledons – or nibs. They are simply chopped up beans, similar to chocolate pieces but without the processing.

Rather than roasting, most cacao is fermented to remove any bitterness. Because of the limited refinery processing involved, much of the nutrient value remains intact. Cacao nibs are high in fiber and fairly low in calories. They are also low in sugar too.



Cacao and Health Benefits

The real health benefit of this food lies in its nutrient profile. It is high in magnesium, iron and a host of healthy bioactive compounds. It also has a high flavonoid content – a potent antioxidant that fights free radical build up.

Studies have found that good quality chocolate has neuroprotective properties, particularly the compound epicatechin [1]. In fact, this nutrient has been found to reduce emotional stress, lower the risk of neuro-degenerative disease and improve blood flow to the brain. Another compound – phenylethylamine (PEA) – has been found to improve mood and boost energy too.

Flavonoids have also been implicated in their cardiovascular protective role [2]. A recent review of scientific research found that the flavonoid derivatives procyanidins and flavan-3-ols boosted cardiovascular health. They also found that raw chocolate products contained trace minerals important in optimizing biological functioning.

All in all this food is a low-calorie, natural product that is high in nutrients and important in promoting overall health.



Does Cacao Help You Lose Weight?

So by now you are probably thinking that raw cacao would be a great addition to a healthy diet. It provides a low calorie, healthy snack that can satisfy your sweet tooth without ruining a restrictive diet.

Even better though, there may also be evidence that cacao can support weight loss too.

Firstly, cocoa procyanidins have been found to improve insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle [3]. This in turn improves glucose metabolism and reduces the risk of metabolic disease.

Secondly, cacao is thought to have anti-obesity properties due to its ability to inhibit digestive enzymes [4]. In a dose-dependant manner, the food is able to lower the rate at which enzymes such as pancreatic α-amylase and pancreatic lipase store fat. Important for weight and fat loss.

A journal article published in Discovery and Innovation [5] also analyzed the cocoa bean; this time focusing on its theobromine content. The researchers wanted to see if it had an effect on weight loss.

The researchers found that including 3-15% of the food into the diet of Wistar rats over 28-days led to rapid and significant weight loss. Not only that, the rats showed improvements in cholesterol levels too.

According to one summary article, dietary supplementation with cocoa flavanols significantly reduced weight and fat gain, obesity-associated inflammation, fasting blood glucose levels and glucose intolerance. 

Finally, an interesting study was published in the prestigious journal Nutrition [6]. In the study, rats were fed a high-fat diet with either real cocoa or fake – what is referred to as a mimetic.

At day 21, the body weight and fat tissue weight of the subjects was assessed to investigate lipid metabolism and other molecular mechanisms of cocoa and weight loss.

When measured, significant weight loss had occurred in the cocoa group. Not only that but serum blood lipid levels had fallen and DNA analysis showed that the food had suppressed the expression of genes involved in fat synthesis and storage.


Just Don’t Forget the Calories

So the evidence shows that cacao can help you lose weight and improve your blood lipid and glucose levels. But don’t forget that weight loss will only occur if you are in a calorie deficit – you burn off more than you put in your body.

As an occasional treat, dark chocolate, cocoa powder or raw cacao are all fantastic. Just don’t forget to consider their calorie content when fitting them into your dietary plan. No matter how healthy a food is, it isn’t a licence to eat as much as you want. More is not better.

But factor the calories into your plan and you’re well on your way to a better, improved physique that you can be proud of.


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References

  1. Nehlig, A. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013; 75(3): 716–727
  2. Steinberg, FM et al. Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003; 103(2): 215-23
  3. Bowser, SM et al. High-molecular-weight cocoa procyanidins possess enhanced insulin-enhancing and insulin mimetic activities in human primary skeletal muscle cells compared to smaller procyanidins. J Nutr Biochem. 2017; 39: 48-58
  4. Gu, Y et al. Inhibition of key digestive enzymes by cocoa extracts and procyanidins. J Agric Food Chem. 2011; 59(10): 5305-11
  5. Eteng, MU et al. Theobromine rich cocoa powder induces weight loss and changes in lipid profile of obese Wistar rats. Discovery and Innovation. 2007; 18(3)
  6. Matsui, N et al. Ingested cocoa can prevent high-fat diet-induced obesity by regulating the expression of genes for fatty acid metabolism. Nutrition. 2005; 21(5): 549-601